Scotland

Warning over child alcohol searches

Stop and search Image copyright Police Scotland

Handing police new powers to stop and search children for alcohol "may have long-term negative effects", the Law Society for Scotland has said.

A Scottish government consultation on police powers to search children for alcohol closed on 15 July.

In its response to the consultation, the Law Society of Scotland said the searches could alienate young people.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said stop and search was a "valuable tool".

The consultation was carried out after an independent advisory group recommended that non-statutory, or consensual, shop and search should end when a new code of practice comes into force next year.

From that point on, the police will be able to search a person only where they have a specific legal power to do so.

But in their report, the advisory group highlighted a potential legislative gap once consensual search ends, as the police do not currently have a specific legal power to search children and young people for alcohol.

However, the group's members were unable to reach a view on whether a new search power was desirable or necessary, and recommended the Scottish government should carry out a public consultation.

'Risk of harm'

The consultation document published by the Scottish government stated that only 9.7% of searches of people under 18 resulted in alcohol being found between 1 June and 31 December last year.

The paper argued that "not having a search power could put children and young people at risk of harm", but also stated that: "A new search power would not give the police any new powers to take alcohol away from a young person."

In their response, the Law Society of Scotland said "we do not consider legislation would be necessary, or indeed desirable. "

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the society's Criminal Law Committee, said: "Giving the police new powers to stop and search young people for alcohol could alienate them and may have long term negative effects, both for Police Scotland and young people in general.

"There is a risk that a new power to search a child or young person for alcohol would generate a disproportionate negative perception of children, as evidence shows only a small number of searches actually result in the finding of alcohol."

'Thorough consultation'

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Stop and search can be a valuable tool in combating crime and has led to the seizures of dangerous weapons, drugs and stolen goods. However, clearly it is important to get the balance right between protecting the public and the rights of the individual.

"The contents of the new Code of Practice have been put out to a full consultation to ensure they are informed by a wide range of views.

"No decision has been made on the power to search children for alcohol.

"As recommended by the independent advisory group a full and thorough consultation has been undertaken to inform the way forward and any future proposals will be subject to further scrutiny by parliament."

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