Police denied new powers to search children for alcohol

Police will not be given new powers to search young people for alcohol after overwhelming opposition from children's groups.

Police officers pouring away the contents of bottles of alcohol that were confiscated from youngsters. Picture: JANE BARLOW

The Scottish Government has concluded there is not enough evidence “at this time” to support the measure following a public consultation on the issue.

Of the 115 respondents who expressed a view, 52 per cent agreed that allowing police to search a child or young person for alcohol “was an appropriate way to reduce risks to safety and wellbeing caused by possessing and consuming alcohol in public”, compared to 43 per cent who disagreed.

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However, national children and young people’s organisations that responded to the consultation were unanimously opposed to the measure.

Concerns expressed included a lack of evidence to support the need for the new power, the adequacy of existing police powers, the implications 
for children’s rights and the potential negative impact on relations between
 the police and young people.

Policing organisations were split on the issue, with the submission from Police Scotland calling for an assessment to be carried out at least six months after the introduction of a new stop-and-search code of practice and associated legislation “to establish if a power of search is necessary”.

The Scottish Government said more evidence would be gathered for 12 months after the code comes into force next year before the policy is reviewed again.

Justice secretary Michael Matheson said stop and search could be a “valuable tool” but added: “Maintaining trust between the police and the public is an important part of finding that balance and we have been listening to people’s views, including young people, about when and how stop and search should be used.”

Last year an independent advisory group chaired by John Scott QC recommended an end to non-statutory or “consensual” stop and search after widespread concern about its use in Scotland, and produced a draft code of practice to underpin the continuing use of statutory search powers.

A consultation was launched after the group was unable to reach a consensus on whether there should be a new statutory power to stop and search children for alcohol, identified by some as a potential legislative gap once consensual stop and search ends.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said: “Police Scotland welcomes this approach as this will allow proper assessment to be made using evidence gathered under the new working arrangements.”