Criminal Justice Research Centre

Children's Experiences in Police Custody

Dr Vicky Kemp, a Principal Research Fellow in the School of Law, was the principal investigator in a Nuffield funded study that examined the impact of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 on the detention and questioning of child suspects. Professor Nichola Carr was the co-investigator and Hope Kent and Professor Stephen Farrall (University of Nottingham) were data analysts on this project.  

Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used, including analysis of 51,504 electronic custody records drawn from eight police forces in England and Wales for two separate months (March and September) in each of 2019, 2020 and 2021. These records included information about the time children spent in custody, whether legal advice was requested and the outcomes of cases. They also contained demographic information about each child’s age, gender and ethnicity.  

A total of 32 observational case studies were carried out in eight custody suites in three police force areas with a view to further understanding child suspects’ experiences both while detained and during the police interview, and how they understood their legal rights. This is the first time in England and Wales that researchers have engaged with children about their legal rights while held in police custody and their experiences have enabled us to view the early stage of the criminal process from a child's perspective. This case study data included at least one research interview with each child, with these interviews taking place prior to and/or after the police interview. Where possible, those involved in the questioning of the child – including police interviewers, the lawyer and the child’s appropriate adult – were also interviewed. The case studies also included examining recordings of police interviews and talking to custody staff. 

Chaired by Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE KC, a Steering Group of policy makers and practitioners provided guidance, expertise and advice throughout the project. Also, in overseeing ethical issues arising out of this project was our Research Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe, University of Cambridge. The academic and practical expertise of this group was invaluable in providing guidance throughout this project, particularly when dealing with the complex ethical issues arising when seeking to engage with children held in police custody.

With the findings providing an evidence base to help inform change, the Nuffield Foundation are funding a second study in which Dr Vicky Kemp (PI) and Dr Miranda Bevan (Co-I) ,Goldsmiths, University of London, will be working in partnership with the police and other agencies in piloting a Child First approach when dealing with children in police custody. 


The Executive Summary and Final Report arising out of this study were published on 24 May 2023.  


Criminal Justice Research Centre

School of Law
Law and Social Sciences building
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

+44 (0)115 846 6239