Consultation on Police Powers to Search Children and Young People for Alcohol: Analysis of Responses

Analysis of consultation responses received.

Executive summary

1. Between 21 March and 15 July 2016, the Scottish Government undertook a public consultation on whether the police should have legal powers to stop and search children and young people for alcohol, or people suspected of supplying children with alcohol. [1] The consultation received 130 responses from a range of individuals and organisations. This included 11 reports of consultation activities held with children and young people in different parts of Scotland.


2. Currently in Scotland there are two types of stop and search: statutory and non-statutory (or consensual). There are a number of laws - such as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 - which give the police the power to search a person in specific situations. This is known as statutory stop and search. In addition, a person can be searched with their consent in circumstances not covered by a specific law. This is known as non-statutory, or consensual, stop and search, and provides the current basis for searching children and young people for alcohol.

3. In March 2015 the Scottish Government invited an Independent Advisory Group, chaired by John Scott QC, to consider long-term policy and practice on stop and search. The group included experts from the fields of policing, law enforcement and children's rights. The Advisory Group recommended an end to consensual stop and search, and produced a draft Code of Practice which would underpin the continuing use of statutory stop and search. The Advisory Group had, however, been unable to reach a consensus on whether there should be a new statutory power to stop and search children for alcohol, and recommended further consultation on this matter.

4. The consultation issued by the Scottish Government, thus, follows on from the work carried out by the Advisory Group, and sought views on the option of introducing statutory powers to stop and search children for alcohol, or those suspected of supplying children with alcohol. A separate concurrent consultation sought views on the draft Code of Practice produced by the Advisory Group

5. The consultation paper contained four questions - three closed (tick-box) questions and one open question - on whether new police powers would safeguard children and young people from risks associated with alcohol consumption and whether such powers might have negative effects. Respondents were invited to provide any evidence, information and views relevant to the issue.

6. The Government was keen to hear the views of children and young people on this issue and an 'easy-read' summary of the consultation paper was also produced. They also met with relevant organisations and encouraged organisations to carry out their own consultation work with children and young people.

7. Analysis of responses to the consultation are summarised below. Comments indicated that respondents often recognised the complexity of the dealing with under-age drinking, and - regardless of whether they supported the new powers or not - they often saw advantages and disadvantages to legislation in this area.

8. Respondents - particularly those opposed to the new powers - drew on a range of existing research evidence and statistics in answering the consultation questions.

A power to search children and young people for alcohol (Q1)

9. Respondents were split on whether a new power to stop and search children for alcohol should be introduced - with 52% answering 'Yes' and 43% answering 'No'. Views were similarly mixed amongst children and young people.

10. National children and young people's organisations were unanimously opposed to the new power. There were, however, divergent views amongst other types of organisations including policing bodies, with one policing body favouring delaying a decision until the new stop and search legislative arrangements and Code of Practice had bedded in.

11. Those expressing support for the new power generally thought it would deter children and young people from purchasing alcohol and carrying alcohol in public places and would reduce under-age drinking. Respondents saw public drinking by young people as a problem, and thought that the police should have powers to deal with this. Some respondents did, however, emphasise that this would not be sufficient on its own to tackle under-age drinking and other preventative and educational measures would also be needed.

12. Those who did not support the introduction of a new power recognised alcohol use and misuse by children and young people as a problem but, in most cases, were firmly of the view that the introduction of a statutory stop and search power was not an appropriate or helpful response to this situation. Respondents highlighted the following:

  • The power would have a negative impact on police relations with individuals, young people in general and communities at large.
  • Existing data did not indicate a 'legislative gap', and the current power to seize alcohol - which accounted for most alcohol recovered by the police - was sufficient for dealing with alcohol consumption by young people in public.
  • A new power would (i) contravene the rights of children and young people (as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and (ii) conflict with recommendations on the use of stop and search made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
  • Any new power might be misused by the police.
  • Under-age drinking (in public and more generally) was a social and cultural rather than a criminal justice issue, and should be addressed in this context.

13. Respondents stressed the importance of adopting an evidence-based approach to tackling under-age drinking. They questioned the merits of stop and search in this respect, and suggested alternative measures which might be pursued, including:

  • Alcohol price controls, and regulation of advertising and marketing
  • Promoting age- ID schemes, and working with retailers to prevent (and report) under-age sales
  • Taking action against retailers selling to those under the age of 18
  • Using local licensing decisions to influence supply
  • Targeted police patrols, and positive and supportive policing.

Negative effects of a new power (Q2)

14. Almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) thought a power to stop and search young people could have negative effects. Respondents highlighted concerns about possible negative effects on relationships between young people and the police; on the wellbeing and safety of children and young people; and on the human rights of children and young people. They cited a range of evidence to support their views.

15. Less often, respondents suggested there could also be negative impacts on relationships between parents and the police, and (in the longer term) on communities and the police.

16. Those identifying possible negative effects included some respondents who supported the introduction of a new power. These respondents thought that, on balance, the 'benefits outweighed the costs'. Some did, though, suggest that steps would need to be taken to ensure good practice and protect the rights of children and young people - some referred to the role of the forthcoming stop and search Code of Practice in this.

A power to search adults suspected of supplying alcohol (Q3)

17. A majority of respondents (59%) indicated support for a new power to search adults suspected of supplying children with alcohol.

18. Respondents who supported this measure generally offered only brief comments to explain their views, often simply stating that the power would protect children and young people and promote community safety, and reduce drinking amongst this demographic. Those offering fuller comments noted the following:

  • Adults are a major source of alcohol for children and young people, and this measure would therefore tackle the supply of alcohol to those under 18.
  • The new power would be a deterrent to adults who might purchase alcohol for children and young people.
  • Supply of alcohol by adults was a more serious issue than possession by children and young people and a new power to search potential suppliers (i.e. adults) would be a proportionate measure.
  • Adults were aware of their responsibilities not to supply alcohol to those under the age of 18, and it was appropriate that the law in this area was enforced.
  • The new power would reinforce the messages that alcohol is a dangerous substance for children and young people and that there are repercussions for breaking the law (e.g. by purchasing alcohol for under-age drinkers).

19. Respondents who opposed the introduction of this new power recognised the supply of alcohol to children and young people by adults as a significant issue, but did not think a new statutory search power was the right way to tackle this. Respondents - mainly organisations - highlighted: the low use and success rates of current stop and search operations; the availability of other existing legislative options; the potential for targeting particular (disadvantaged) communities; and the possible negative impact on relations between the police and individuals and communities.

20. Respondents also favoured other ways of tackling the issue of supply by adults - e.g. education, support, and working with retailers to address the problem.

21. In addition, some respondents in this group queried how such a new power would operate. Firstly, they queried how any legislation might be worded in order to provide clear guidance on what constituted 'reasonable grounds for suspicion'. Secondly, they queried how the power would be interpreted, and how easy it would be to establish 'intent' to supply.


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