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National Homeless Advice Service

Young people in trouble with the police

A minority of contact between the police and young people will be in context of young people being suspected of committing a crime, and it is important for young people to be aware of their rights and responsibilities in these circumstances.


Cautions and reprimands

Police cautions are used to deal quickly and simply with less serious offences, in order to avoid making the young person go to court and to reduce the chances of re-offending. For these reasons, cautions are often used by police when dealing with young people. But it is important to remember that the young person must agree to the caution. A police caution will form part of a criminal record and can be brought up in future court proceedings.

Young people aged 10 to 17 committing their first or second minor offence might receive ‘reprimands’ . A ‘reprimand’ is a formal verbal warning given by a police officer to a young person who admits they are guilty of a minor offence. It must be given in the presence of a parent or carer. The young person may then be referred to the local Youth Offending team.

Reprimands and cautions are intended for people who have committed minor offences and have admitted to them. A young person does not have to accept a reprimand or caution, and may wish to seek legal advice if they do not accept one. However, the police may consider sending the case to court for prosecution. Both reprimands and cautions will remain on a young person’s record until they are 18, or for two years after being given. They will be considered ‘spent’ immediately, and the young person will not have to declare them on employment/further education applications etc. However, they will be disclosed for criminal record enhanced and standard checks.

Gov.uk - What can happen to you if your child gets into trouble with the law

Gov.uk - Youth offending teams

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The police may arrest with or without a warrant; however the reasons for the arrest must be given at the time or as soon as possible afterwards. The police are allowed to use reasonable force when arresting. They have the right to search an arrested young people if they have a reasonable belief that they may present a danger to themselves or to others, or may hide something which might be evidence relating to any crime or which might be used to assist an escape from police custody.

The Mix - Rights on arrest

Gov.uk - Being arrested

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At the police station

If a young person is arrested, the police must give her/him written information about her/his legal rights on arrival at the police station. This includes access to free legal advice from a solicitor before,during and after questioning. The police can take a young person’s fingerprints if they have reason to suspect involvement in a crime. They can also take photographs, but cannot force the arrested person to have a picture taken against their will, until they are cautioned or charged. If the young person is under the age of 17, s/he should usually not be interviewed by the police without a parent or appropriate adult being present. A young person who has hearing problems or difficulty in understanding English should be given a signer or an interpreter. A young person must give the police her/his name and address but then has the right to stay silent; however, the failure to answer questions may strengthen the case against her/him. Any interview that is conducted should follow certain rules, for example there should be regular refreshment breaks, the cell and interview room should be clean and properly heated, and the police are not allowed to make the young person feel unreasonably pressured with their questioning. If there are no grounds for keeping the young person under arrest the police should release her/him either with or without bail.

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Charges and going to court

The police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will decide if a young person should be charged. Once they are charged, the young person can be bailed or remanded. A young person under the age of 18 charged with a crime will have to go to a youth court, which is less formal than an adult court. The court will decide on a guilty or not guilty verdict, and decide on a sentence, or if appropriate, pass the case to the crown court.

Gov.uk - Young people: going to court after being charged with a crime

Howard League for Penal Reform - Free legal advice and assistance for young people in custody

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Young people with disabilities

When dealing with a young person with a learning disability or communication difficulty who is arrested or has to appear in court, additional support may be appropriate to make sure the young person fully understands his/her situation.

MIND: Mental health and the police

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