Two judges, sitting at the High Court in London yesterday, upheld the right of a 15-year-old boy to be out on the streets at night unless the police suspected him of criminal or anti-social behaviour. The boy, who comes from Richmond, south-west London, and can only be identified as W, was challenging the new police powers to detain and forcibly return home any child who ventures into a designated curfew zone after 9pm.
Lawyers for W, who has never been in trouble with the police, told the court that in a democracy, only those suspected of wrongdoing should be subject to curfews and police arrest.
Lord Justice Brooke and Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the police use of such a wide power was unlawful. They said: "If Parliament considered that such a power was needed, it should have said so, and identified the circumstances in which it intended the power to be exercised."
The curfew zone was introduced in Richmond town centre over last summer because of police concerns that thousands of people were coming there to drink on Friday and Saturday nights and "became involved in incidents of low-level antisocial behaviour".
In a statement after the ruling, "W" said: "Of course I have no problem with being stopped by the police if I've done something wrong. But they shouldn't be allowed to treat me like a criminal just because I'm under 16."
His challenge to police powers under the 2003 Antisocial Behaviour Act was backed by the human rights group Liberty.
The Government said it would challenge the ruling in the Court of Appeal. A Home Office spokeswoman said: "This judgment does not prevent the police from using their power to disperse groups [but it] does affect their power to take children home."
The dispersal powers have been used across the country to tackle problems including underage drinking, joyriding, noise nuisance, throwing fireworks, and the harassment and intimidation of residents, she said.
Lord Justice Brooke said W, who was 14 at the time, was not removed from the "dispersal area" but his case raised "issues of general importance about the powers of police and community support officers in relation to children and young persons under the age of 16".
W first became aware of the new curfew laws when he visited Richmond town centre in June last year. A community support officer seemed to be watching him and a friend while they were shopping, and he explained they were in a dispersal area and that he thought they had been acting suspiciously.
Lord Justice Brooke said W was "distressed" to be told off and did not feel he could return to the town centre in the evenings without his parents.
The Home Office spokeswoman said: "This is a discretionary power, it is not a curfew preventing all children from being out in the evening."Reuse content