Criminal Justice Research Centre

Digital Legal Rights – For Young Suspects

When conducting research into procedural safeguards for young suspects, Dr. Vicky Kemp’s research helps to highlight the adult-centred approach adopted when dealing with people accused of having committed a crime, irrespective of their age.

In England and Wales, for example, children from 10 years of age can be arrested and interviewed by the police, while in many European countries 14 years is generally the age of criminal responsibility. While it is mandatory for under 18 year olds to have an appropriate adult, it is usually a parent who attends when dealing with children. It is understandable that parents will focus on the welfare of their child, but it is of concern that 10 to 13 year olds are least likely of all suspects to have a lawyer (39% compared to 45% for all other age groups).

Without having the benefit of legal advice, research has shown that the case outcomes for this young age group are more interventionist than those imposed on 14 to 16 year olds, mainly because they are more likely to have a lawyer (V. Kemp et al. (2011) ‘Children, Young People and Requests for Police Station Legal Advice: 25 Years on from PACE’, Youth Justice, 11/1.

Vicky is interested in using technology to help improve the way that people are told about their legal rights and to help them make more informed decisions, particularly over the waiver of legal advice. Through funding provided by the University of Nottingham, she is talking to children and young people (CYP) in schools and colleges about suspects’ legal rights and what they understand about key concepts relating to such rights. Such as, for example, ‘what is a lawyer?’ and ‘how can a lawyer help someone who is in trouble with the police?’

Legal Education FoundationVicky has also received funding from the Legal Education Foundation so that she can engage with young people who have experience of the criminal justice system, or who are at risk of coming into contact with the police, so that their experiences can help to influence the design of a child-friendly Police Station App.

Working together with a project team, including Drs Elvira Perez from the University of Nottingham and Dawn Watkins from the University of Leicester, we are interviewing CYP who have experience of the criminal process, or who at risk of being drawn into the youth justice system. This includes young people involved with local Youth Offending Teams, being held in secure accommodation, as well as young people in residential care. They will be asked questions about their legal rights as suspects and, if they have been dealt with by the police, how they exercised such rights.

We want to know where CYP would go to find information about their legal rights, particularly if they were to be questioned by the police, and also how they would prefer the information to be presented. Depending on age and maturity, for example, this could be by way of a cartoon or video. Just for Kids Law, for example, have made available this animated film which sets out for young people their legal rights and what happens if they are taken into police custody.

It will also include exploring the potential gamification to encourage CYP to better understand their legal rights. Through playing games, for example, this leads to the creation of tasks that encourage children to engage and help to increase knowledge and skill development. The development of a resource which deals with suspects’ legal rights could usefully be taken into schools and other settings where CYP meet as part of a public legal education project to help inform them of their legal rights as suspects.

We also want to engage with CYP as stakeholders in the criminal process so that experiences not only inform what improvements are required but also to involve them in designing appropriate interventions.

For further details see

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