A children’s charity has been given permission to challenge the legality of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act code of practice and the failure of government and police to provide adequate support and protection to 17-year-olds in police custody.

The High Court granted permission yesterday for Just for Kids Law to bring judicial review proceedings in relation to the treatment of 17-year-olds as adults detained in police custody or subject to questioning.

The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child states that every person under 18 must be treated as a child, unless the age of majority in their country is reached earlier. In the UK the age of majority is 18.

But under the PACE code of practice, issued by the home secretary, 17-year-olds are treated as adults and only given the protections afforded to other children, such as access to an appropriate adult, at the discretion of the police.

Just for Kids Law and Doughty Street’s Caoilfhionn Gallagher will argue that this puts the home secretary and the Metropolitan police in violation of both international and domestic law.

They will also challenge the failure of the Met to comply with its statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, under section 11 of the Children Act 2004.

The child concerned is a 17-year-old with no criminal record who was detained at a London police station for over 12 hours without the assistance of an appropriate adult and without being able to speak to his mother. His family was not told of his whereabouts for hours, even though the child had specifically asked for his mother to be informed and for her assistance at the police station.

Director of Just for Kids Law Shauneen Lambe said: ‘In our experience, this is not an isolated incident; 17-year-olds are routinely treated as adults when dealing with police.

‘Just for Kids Law believes that all children should be entitled to the same protection at the police station. Young people can be traumatised by their experience at the police station and the role of an appropriate adult is to ensure and monitor the child’s wellbeing.’

The chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook, welcomed the High Court’s decision and said: ‘It is simply wrong that 17-year-olds in police custody are not considered children and not afforded protections such as access to an appropriate adult.

‘As it stands, vulnerable 17-year-olds will only be provided with access to an appropriate adult at the discretion of the police. Yet we are aware that this discretion is seldom exercised.’