Teenager wins child curfew zones court battle

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The Independent Online

A 15-year-old today won a landmark legal victory against child curfew zones used to tackle anti-social behaviour.

The teenager, from the London borough of Richmond - referred to as "W" for legal reasons - was granted a declaration that the police have no power to use force to remove young people to their homes under the "anti-yob" legislation.

Lord Justice Brooke and Mr Justice Mitting, sitting at the High Court in London, 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."

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 Anti-Social Behaviour Act was backed by human rights pressure group Liberty.

Alex Gask, Liberty's legal officer acting for W, said: "This is a victory for the presumption of innocence, and the right of everyone, no matter what their age, not to be subjected to coercive powers without good cause."

Under the curfew legislation, any unaccompanied child under 16 who ventured into a curfew zone when the ban was in force - usually after 9pm - was liable to arrest and forced escort home, whether or not they were suspected of bad behaviour.

W's lawyers argued that, in a democracy, only those suspected of wrongdoing should be subject to sanctions such as curfews and police arrest.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "This judgment does not mean that the authorisations which are in force are invalid or prevent the police making authorisations in future and does not prevent the police from using their power to disperse groups.

"This judgment does affect the police's ability to use their power to take children home.

"We believe that the police should have reasonable force to take children home.

"Otherwise the police could do nothing if a child refused to be taken home. We will be appealing to the Court of Appeal."

She added: "These powers provide the police with a powerful tool to tackle intimidation and anti-social behaviour by groups of people.

"Whilst not limited to young people, 'teenagers hanging around' is a big cause of concern to the public as cited in the British Crime Survey.

"Young people themselves are also most likely to mention 'teenagers hanging around' as the biggest problem in their area."

The dispersal powers were being used "creatively" across the country to tackle problems including underage drinking, joyriding, noise nuisance, throwing fireworks, and the harassment and intimidation of residents, she said.

"A young person may have a legitimate reason for being out at night unsupervised.

"This is a discretionary power, it is not a curfew preventing all children from being out in the evening," she went on.