Edinburgh MSP calls for police to be banned from placing children in cells

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton called for a children's rights revolutionLib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton called for a children's rights revolution
Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton called for a children's rights revolution
A new law which will raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland should also ban the locking up of children in police cells.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton, has lodged amendments to a Bill currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament, which would prohibit police from putting children in cells.

The Edinburgh MSP, and deputy convener of Holyrood's Equalities and Human Rights Committee, will also make another attempt to further raise the age limit to 14 or 16, as the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill proposes to lift it from eight to 12 years.

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Mr Cole-Hamilton has called for a “children’s rights revolution” to ensure that Scotland becomes the best place in the world to grow up.

His amendments will attempt to ensure no other child endures the experience of Lynzy Hanvidge who gave evidence to the Committee in November, recounting her experience of being put in a cell overnight when being taken into care in 2007.

She described how social workers and police had arrived to remove her and her siblings, and when she "kicked off" as she did not want to leave her mother, she was handcuffed.

She told MSPs: "They were pulling me about the place—I was quite a wee girl when I was 13—and I hit him. It was just that I wanted him away. I wanted to get back up the stairs and make sure my mum was okay. I got taken to the police station that night. This happened at about 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I was not picked up until about half seven the next morning. I was taken to a children’s home where my brother and my sister were.

"They had spent their first night in a children’s home. I spent my first night in care in a prison cell, locked up. I had not done anything wrong, but I felt like I had done something wrong."

Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The experience of being arrested and charged is already a severe adverse childhood experience, but by permitting children to be detained in cells, we are cruelly adding another.

“Evidence highlights that detention in inappropriate conditions can have serious long-term repercussions for children and young people. A police cell is never the right place for a child. There are any number of more appropriate locations for children when they need a place of safety.

“As we approach the final hurdle for the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill, the Scottish Parliament has an opportunity to kick-start a children’s revolution."

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Elsewhere in the Bill, he will again seek to raise the age of criminal responsibility beyond 12, as he believes "such a low age would represent a fresh breach of international minimums" and said it has been condemned by experts including the Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner.

His previous amendments to the Bill had asked for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14 or 16, to give 18 months for this to come into effect once the legislation raising the age to 12 is passed, or to increase the age of criminal prosecution to either 14 or 16, were all voted down by five votes to two. He was backed by Labour’s Mary Fee while SNP and Conservative committee members voted against it.

He added: “If Parliament is prepared to be bold we can deliver on our promise to make Scotland the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up. Anything less and we are letting down the next generation. We cannot lead the world from the back of the pack.”

At the time Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd had urged the committee not to back the amendments for a further age rise. She said she had “significant concerns” about using the Bill to raise the age past 12, highlighting worries about the readiness to deal with further increases, which she said would require additional primary legislation.