There is to be a review of strip-search procedures used by the police on young people in custody after the Children’s Law Centre (CLC) raised concerns.
It will be conducted by the Policing Board and will involve examining records and CCTV in custody suites.
Data obtained by the CLC showed there were more than 50 strip searches of under-18s in 2021 and 2022 and in “almost all cases” nothing was found.
It said it was pleased the board had taken its concerns seriously.
Amnesty International in Northern Ireland has previously called for the practice to be ended.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it welcomed the review and added the searches were only done to check individuals were not concealing something which could cause harm.
A report will be published by the board once the review is completed.
The terms of reference state there are two substantive issues; the evidential basis for a search and their classification as urgent – meaning no appropriate adult was present.
The CLC said the data showed that in 2021 an appropriate adult was only present in one of 27 searches.
It added that “items of interest” – drugs and a mobile phone – were found on just three occasions.
When the issue was raised at public meetings of the board recently, the PSNI stated the searches were justified, but this has been challenged.
Earlier this year, the PSNI put a new system in place, including more detailed recording of the basis for the searches.
The review’s terms of reference stated: “Apart from the obvious issues of children having to remove their clothes in police stations and questions about whether the PSNI are complying with the law and regulations, there are specific human rights issues”.
It went on: “In relation to the presence of an appropriate adult, it appears that in many cases the parents of the child or young person often do not attend and, although there is a system for calling independent appropriate adults, this creates delay”.
It added that a strip search was a search involving the removal of more than outer clothing.
‘Appropriate levels of scrutiny’
Fergal McFerran of the CLC said: “We believe the commissioning of this investigation is itself a sign that serious concerns in relation to the practice of strip searching children remain unanswered.
“We hope the investigation will bring the appropriate levels of scrutiny and we have no doubt there will be serious failings identified.
“It is right that the actions of the PSNI on this issue are carefully examined.”
Responding to the review, Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd said police would provide all material required.
He added: “Police may lawfully conduct these searches if they believe an individual has concealed an item on their person or in their clothing that can cause themselves or others serious harm.
“This is not routinely done and on those occasions searches are deemed necessary, they are conducted in line with the relevant codes of practice issued by the Department of Justice.”
The review was welcomed by Amnesty International, which said the use of strip searches on children was “a serious violation of their human rights and dignity”.
Source: British Broadcasting Corporation