Lay Observers are appointed by the Secretary of State under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (CJA1991) but are independent from Government and any Government agencies.

The CJA1991 established Lay Observers with a specific duty to check on the welfare of detained persons (DPs) while they are in the care and custody of escort contractors who transport them to and from courts and prisons and look after them whilst in court custody.  Lay Observers make regular visits to court custody suites.  They particularly inspect how far those held and transported are treated with decency and respect and how effectively their welfare is managed.  In this context welfare includes health and safety care, access to justice and general treatment.

Lay Observers make judgements about the facilities provided for DPs and how they are treated whilst being transported and held in a court custody suite.  A vital role of a Lay Observer is to engage with DPs to ascertain their feelings about how they are being treated and discuss any concerns they may have.  These judgements are then reported after each visit, using an on-line process.

Lay Observers are independent, unremunerated public appointees and undertake an average of 2-3 days per month depending on the needs of the organisation and the individual.  Lay Observers usually make their visits alone but sometimes visit larger courts in pairs.