FAQs - young people

1: Is it against the law to hang around on the streets?

Not usually, but it might depend on what you're doing. For example, there might be a Dispersal Order (see below for more details) in place in the area you are and then, if you are asked by the police to move and you don't, that would be against the law. Otherwise it is not against the law unless you are committing a criminal offence or causing a nuisance. That could include intimidating other people through your language or your behaviour.

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2: What happens if the Police stop me in the street?

If a police officer stops you in the street, they must tell you their name, the station where they are based and why they have stopped you. They might just have stopped because you look like someone they are looking for, such as a young person who is missing from home. However, they might have stopped you because they suspect that you have done something illegal or that you might be about to break the law. You must give your name and address, but you don't have to answer any legal questions until you have had legal advice. If they suspect you are carrying an offensive weapon, drugs or anything else with which you could commit a crime, the officer can search your outer clothing, even in a public place. Always try to stay calm because if you get abusive or angry it will only increase your chances of getting arrested. You have the right to be treated fairly and with respect by the police.

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3: What is an Acceptable Behaviour Contract (commonly known as an 'ABC')?

If the police or a local authority has evidence that your, or a friend's, behaviour is causing problems for the community, they can ask you to sign an ABC. ABCs can be given to anyone no matter how old they are. An ABC is a voluntary written agreement, it is not a criminal record but it does list a number of things that you can no longer do, like hanging out in certain areas with certain people. By signing the agreement, you agree to stop the unacceptable behaviour and follow any other requirements of the contract. You may have to attend school or college more regularly or attend counselling sessions. The agreement is also signed by the local organisation that wants to stop the behaviour. This may be the police, a local authority or a youth offending team. If the contract involves someone under 18, their parent or carer will also have to sign it. ABCs usually last for six months and you will be monitored by the local organisation that also signed the contract to ensure the agreement isn't broken. If you break the agreement, the organisation will decide what action will be taken. This could mean extending the contract, or, maybe, the use of an Antisocial Behaviour Order (ASBO), or other measures depending on how the contract was broken.

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4: What is an Antisocial Behaviour Order (commonly known as an 'ASBO')?

An ASBO is a court order that prohibits the perpetrator from specific antisocial behaviours. ASBOs can be given to anyone, no matter how old they are. Antisocial behaviour is a term used to describe incidents or actions that cause alarm, harassment or distress, or affect the quality of life of individuals. ASBO laws give the police, local authorities and housing association more powers to make the society in which we live safer, by protecting individuals and communities from vandalism, graffiti, intimidation and nuisance neighbours. If an ASBO is made against you it can prohibit you from doing certain things, such as going to a town centre or spending time with a particular group of people. When you hang out with friends make sure you behave in an appropriate manner and you don't cause damage to an area or harm others. If you are a victim of antisocial behaviour you can contact your local police station and they can act accordingly under the laws. No one should be a victim of antisocial behaviour but at the same time that doesn't mean you can't hang out with your friends. Be responsible and just make sure you respect others around you.

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5: What is a Dispersal Order (sometimes called a 'Section 30 Order')?

Dispersal Orders are another way that antisocial behaviour is being tackled in some places. A chief police officer can put restrictions on certain areas that have been identified as areas where antisocial behaviour is particularly high. These dispersal areas can include your local park or playing field. Once an area becomes a dispersal zone, the police (and police community support officers) have the power to order groups of people to leave an area after a certain time, if they suspect that antisocial behaviour has or may happen. They can also exclude people from the area for up to 24 hours. An officer can also ask anyone under 16 to go home after 9pm but can not force them to do so, but a refusal is an offence. However, it's unlikely you'll be affected if you're just passing through a dispersal area on your way home or if the police feel you're unlikely to cause trouble. If you are concerned about anti-social behaviour in your area generally, or if you've got a specific problem, you can contact your local authority and ask to speak to the antisocial behaviour co-ordinator, or you can call your local police.

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6: If I was arrested, would my parents / carers have to be told?

Yes, if you are 16 or under. If they can't be contacted then another person, nominated as a 'responsible adult', will be asked to come in and sit with you while you are interviewed. If you are 17 or above, your parents do not have to be told.

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7: If I was arrested, how long could I be held in a police cell?

You can be kept in a cell at a police station for up to 24 hours. While you are there you will be interviewed, but if the police are not finished with the investigation, they can then apply to the senior police officer in the area to have the time extended to 36 hours. This might be because they need extra time to interview other people such as witnesses or victims. After that, the police have to get permission from a magistrate to keep you in the cell for another 12 hours. These rules are different for anyone suspected of a terrorist offence.

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8: Is it true that you might not be able to travel to America if you've got a criminal record?

Basically, yes. In America, and some other countries, you have to tell them if you have ever been arrested when you apply for a visa. Even if you were arrested ages ago for something that is now spent (which no longer has to be declared on some forms), you have to tell them. If your arrest resulted in a conviction you may never be able to receive a visa.

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9: Is cannabis illegal?

Cannabis is a Class B drug. It is illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell.

For a young person found to be in possession of cannabis, this means that the police will always take action If you're caught with even a small amount of cannabis, the police will confiscate the drug and it is very likely you will be arrested. What the police will do depends on the circumstances and how old you are. If you're under 18, you'll get a caution and your parent or guardian will also be contacted. The police are more likely to arrest you if you are blatantly smoking in public and/or have been caught with cannabis before. Usually, you'll get a cannabis warning if you're 18 and over. If you're under 18, the second time you get caught you're likely to get a conditional caution and be referred to a Youth Offending Team. If you continue to break the law, you can end up with a criminal record, which could affect your chances of getting a job. It could also affect whether you can go on holiday to some countries. The maximum penalty for possession is five years in prison plus an unlimited fine.

Dealing is a very serious offence. In the eyes of the law, this includes giving drugs to friends. People who grow cannabis in their homes or carry large amounts on them also risk being charged with intent to supply. The maximum penalty for supply is 14 years in prison plus a fine.

Did you also know: Drug driving is as illegal as drink driving. You could go to prison, get a heavy fine or be disqualified. Allowing people to take cannabis in your house or any other premises is illegal. If the police catch someone smoking cannabis in a club they can prosecute the landlord, club owner or person holding the party. Using cannabis to relieve pain is also an offence. Possession is illegal whatever you're using it for.

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10: Air Weapons

Air guns, air rifles and air pistols

Do I need a firearms licence to own an air gun?

Air guns, air rifles and air pistols do not need to be held on a firearms certificate, unless they are particularly powerful. By law, you can only possess a powerful air weapon if you have a firearms certificate.

The use of any weapon can be dangerous. They must always be used in a safe way. Perhaps you could join a soft-air club where you can get training and supervision in how to use them properly. If you carry your air weapon in public, on the way to and from a club, for example, it must be in a closed holder.

It is an offence for anyone under the age of 18 to have with them an air weapon or ammunition for an air weapon unless:

  • they are under the supervision of a person aged 21 or over; or
  • they are shooting as a member of an approved target shooting club; or
  • they are shooting at a shooting gallery and the only firearms being used are either air weapons or miniature rifles not exceeding .23 inch calibre; or
  • the person is 14 years old or above and is on private premises with the consent of the occupier.

It is an offence to part with possession of an air weapon, or ammunition for an air weapon, to a person under the age of 18 except under the special circumstances mentioned above

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BB Guns

Is it illegal to own a BB gun?

No, but:

  • You must be 18 years old or over and be a member of a soft-air club to buy and possess a realistic BB gun.
  • If you are not a member of a soft-air club, but still over 18 years old, you can only purchase a non-realistic BB gun, which will be manufactured in an obscure colour (pink, yellow, etc.).
  • If you are under 18 years old, you can only possess a BB gun on private land.
  • BB guns (which fire ball bearings or plastic pellets) are often played with as toys. However, they can be very dangerous and, potentially, could seriously injure or kill someone.

You must remember that a BB gun is considered to be an imitation firearm, which is defined as:

"any thing which has the appearance of being a firearm whether or not it is capable of discharging any shot, bullet or missile".

It is illegal to carry an imitation firearm in public and the consequences could be very serious. If you carry a BB gun in a public place, you are potentially risking your life if someone sees it and calls the police. When the police arrive, they will not know for sure that it is a BB gun. Even trained police officers have great difficulty distinguishing these guns from actual firearms and have to act as if they are real. There is a real risk of you being shot by armed response officers who are unable to establish the exact nature of the weapon.

If you own a BB gun, the safest thing to do is to hand it in at your nearest police station.

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11: Mini Motos

How old do you have to be to ride a moped on the road?

If you are under 16

The only place that you can ride a mini moto is on private land but you must have the permission of the land owner.

If you are over 16

You can use a mini moto on private land but you must have the land owner’s permission. You can also use the mini moto on the roads only if:

  • The mini moto is registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) , taxed and insured.
  • You have the correct driving licence for the mini moto. If the driving licence is a provisional one, then ‘L’ plates must be displayed both at the front and rear of the bike.
  • You wear an approved protective helmet.
  • The bike has an official number plate, brake lights, an audible warning instrument and indicators. If you use it at night, you must have working lights fitted.
  • The bike’s exhaust is not too loud or altered in any way.

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12: Alcohol

How old do I need to be before I can go into a pub?

If you’re under 18 and drinking alcohol in public, you can be stopped, fined or arrested by police.

If you’re under 18, it is against the law:

  • for someone to sell you alcohol
  • to buy or try to buy alcohol
  • for an adult to buy or try to buy alcohol for you
  • to drink alcohol in licensed premises (eg a pub or restaurant)

If you’re 16 or under, you may be able to go to a pub (or premises primarily used to sell alcohol) if you’re accompanied by an adult. However, this isn’t always the case. It can also depend on:

  • the specific conditions for that premises
  • the licensable activities taking place there

It’s illegal to give alcohol to children under 5.

(From gov.uk alcohol young people law)

Can the police really take an alcoholic drink off me in a public place if I'm not yet 18?

  • If the police suspect someone under 18 has alcohol in a public place, they have the power to confiscate it. If young people get caught with alcohol three times they could face a social contract, a fine or arrest. Getting a criminal record could affect future job prospects and make it more difficult to travel to countries like the USA.
  • The police can also confiscate alcohol from someone, no matter what their age, if they believe it has been, or will be drunk by someone under 18 in a public place.

If I am drinking alcohol with some mates in the park what can the police do about it?

Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act says that a Police Officer in uniform may direct any person to leave an area if they have reasonable grounds to believe that their presence is likely to cause or contribute to the occurrence, repetition or continuance of alcohol related crime and disorder and it is necessary to remove them to prevent this. If you fail to comply with an order to disperse under this legislation, or return within the time indicated, you are liable to prosecution or arrest.

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13: Piracy

Are pirate DVDs really illegal?

Yes, they are, even though many people think of it as a 'soft' crime where nobody actually gets hurt. The sellers of pirate DVDs often have links with more serious crimes, like people trafficking, exploitation of minors, and drug dealing. Buying pirate DVDs from car boot sales, street traders, or through online auction sites, helps to fund these crimes in your local community. If you do buy a pirate DVD and it is faulty or poor quality you will not get your money back. Statistics show that young people aged between 15 and 21 buy more pirate DVDs than any other age group.

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14: Criminal Age limit

What age do I have to be to be convicted of a criminal offence?

You have full criminal responsibility for your actions at the age of 10. If you are convicted of an offence, there is a variety of community sentences that can be imposed on you, including being referred to a youth offender panel.

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Content uploaded: 28/07/2015 13:35 | Modified: 25/01/2022 17:14