Criminal Law Week

Are the police required to obtain judicial consent before interviewing a child who is a ward of court?

Oct 11, 2017

The following article is written for Police Professional by the editors of Criminal Law Week. Criminal Law Week is used by criminal justice professionals – including police officers, the CPS, judges and lawyers – to stay up to date with changes in criminal law. Published 46 times a year, each issue summarises important cases and legislation, keeping you on top of the latest developments regarding offences, police powers, the rules of procedure and evidence, and more. Incisive commentary is also provided by James Richardson Q.C., the editor of Archbold. Our online service gives you access to all Criminal Law Week issues, from 1997 to today. These are pulled together in a fully-searchable database, complemented by annotated key criminal legislation. For more information about Criminal Law Week, or to sign up for a free trial of our online service, please visit or call 01483 414 599. Are the police required to obtain judicial consent before interviewing a child who is a ward of court? No, said the High Court (Family Division) in Re a Ward of Court (CLW/17/33/10). The case concerned a teenager who was approached by an officer of the Security Service in the exercise of his functions. The teenager was a ward of court. When the relevant local authority became aware of what happened, it wrote to the Security Service suggesting that the approach should not have taken place without the prior authority of the court and that the officer was at serious risk of being in contempt of court. The matter came before the High Court to determine whether there was a requirement for the Security Service to obtain permission of a wardship court before fulfilling its statutory functions in so far as they related to a ward of the court. Although the issue arose in the context of the activities of the Security Service, the same point could arise in relation to the activities of the police and other investigatory, enforcement or regulatory agencies. At the time the application was heard, paragraph 5.2 of Practice Direction 12D under the Family Procedure Rules 2010 provided “where the police need to interview a child who is already a ward of court, an application must be made for permission for the police to do so…”, and went on to provide more detailed directions in that regard. That rule replaced two earlier practice directions from 1987 and 1988 to similar effect. Neither the identity of the ward nor the local authority was revealed. Other than the fact that radicalisation was an issue, nothing more was said about the circumstances of the case. The High Court (Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division) held that there is not and never has been any principle or rule that judicial consent is required before the police can interview a ward of court. The asserted principle or rule, as argued for by the relevant local authority, that judicial consent is required before the police can interview a ward of court cannot be reconciled with the principle in A v Liverpool City Council [1982] AC 363, where the House of Lords held that the wardship court cannot exercise its powers, however wide they might be, so as to intervene on the merits in an area of concern entrusted by law to another public authority. Nor is the asserted principle compatible with the “no privilege over other children” principle that the existence of wardship does not give the ward a privilege over and above other young people who are not wards, as explained by the Court of Appeal in Re F (otherwise A) (A Minor) (Publication of Information) [1977] Fam 58. The Practice Direction was in significant parts simply wrong, and could not properly be understood unless read in conjunction with Re G; Re R Note (Wards) (Police Interviews) [1990] 2 FLR 347, where the Court of Appeal held that “provided that the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 with regard to juveniles are complied with, the duty upon the police is discharged. They have no extra duty to perform. There is, of course, a duty upon those having

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