The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a book that follows the journey of 15 year old Christopher, who has autism. When he finds his neighbour’s dog dead, Christopher sets off to unravel the mystery of who was responsible, whilst writing his own murder mystery novel. There are lots of interesting legal issues raised in The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, and this blog will look at Christopher’s interaction with the police and how the law would affect the situation if something similar happened to you here in Wales.
‘And why were you holding the dog?’ he asked.
This was a difficult question. […]
I wanted to answer the question properly, but the policeman did not give me enough time to work out the correct answer.
The policeman took hold of my arm and lifted me onto my feet
When Christopher is investigating the death of Wellington, Mrs Shears calls the police. The policeman asks a lot of questions and confuses Christopher, causing him to punch the policeman and be taken to the police station.
The Welsh Government has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This means children under the age of 18 have specific rights.
What is the age of criminal responsibility?
The age of criminal responsibility refers to the age that you can be punished for breaking the law.
In Wales, if you are aged 10 or above you can be held responsible for breaking the law. However, if you are under the age of 18 when committing a crime, you should still be treated differently to an adult. In the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher is 15, so he is criminally responsible for his actions.
How the police should treat you as a young person
After punching the police officer, Christopher is taken to the police station and put in a cell. They then call his father. When his father arrives, Christopher is questioned by an inspector, and eventually given a warning.
Article 40 of the UNCRC means that if you are accused of breaking the law, you should be treated respectfully. You should be treated in a way which is appropriate to your age.
The UNCRC also says that you should be told what charges are being brought against you in a way that you understand.
In addition, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gives you extra rights as a young person when dealing with the police. The person in charge of looking after you, like a parent or carer, should be told why you were arrested and which police station you are at. An ‘appropriate adult’ should be with you before you are asked questions. This person could be your parent/ carer, or a social worker. You also have the right to a phone call when you get to the police station, as well as the right to free legal advice from a lawyer.
There is more about your rights and how you should be treated by the police in this Children’s Legal Centre Factsheet: Stopped, Arrested, Interviewed, Charged
Equality Act 2010
We can see in The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time that the reason Christopher punches the policeman is because he gets confused and overwhelmed with all the questions he was asked. The Equality Act 2010 says that people like Christopher with autism and other learning disabilities should be treated with respect and should not be discriminated against. The policeman should have made ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure Christopher understood what was going on when questioned and also when he was at the police station.
What happens if I was treated unfairly?
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly when at the police station, you do have the option to complain. You can complain to the police, and if you think they’ve dealt with your complaint in the wrong way, you can appeal to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
You can read more about how to launch a complaint on the Children’s Legal Centre website .
I’m Abi, I’m from Neath and I’m currently studying Law at Swansea University. In the future, I hope to have a career in children’s rights or family law. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, hanging out with friends and going to the beach.