Chair of Lay Observers publishes Annual Report for 2015/16

Repeated communication failures and inconsistent medical support are causing risks to the health of detainees in court custody and their ability to communicate their defence adequately says Tony FitzSimons Chair of the Prisoner Escort and Custody Services Lay Observers in his annual report to the Secretary of State for Justice. In the report he urges the Ministry to take action to review the adequacy and continuity of medical support, particularly mental health, to detainees in court custody and throughout their journey in the criminal justice system.

The documentation accompanying detainees to court for trial from prisons and police custody is intended to convey their health and security risks to ensure their wellbeing and safety pre and post-trial in court custody. The documentation from certain prisons and police custodies is routinely deficient in accuracy and completion so that the medical risk, in particular, is unknown. The medication needs of the detainees may also not be adequately provided for whilst in court custody and the offsite medical support is not consulted or sufficiently responsive to ensure every detainee is well enough to engage appropriately in the conduct of their defence. Examples can range from absence of treatments for heroin withdrawal and depression to denial of urgent dental treatment and can include 4 hour waiting times where doctor attendance is required.

These findings confirm that equivalent failings noted in the inquest (April 2016) into the death in court custody of Mr Sivaraj Tharmalingam in April 2015 were not isolated cases and should therefore be taken seriously by the Ministry.

These conclusions are based on reports prepared by Lay Observers following their visits to court custody and prison reception which identified a number of themes of concern in addition to healthcare which have been included in the Chair’s 2015/16 Annual Report. Between April 2015 and March 2016 there were 1800 such visits by Lay Observers, who reported 340 observations of serious concern and 36 cases considered to be unacceptable. Many of these observations are in the same court and occurred over multiple visits (i.e. a number of issues were outstanding over a year).

The Lay Observer role is an important one in reassuring the public and the Ministry of Justice that there is a process for regularly and objectively monitoring the quality of treatment and access to justice of Detained Persons under escort and in the court custody suite. The aim is to ensure high standards and reliability as a partner in the monitoring framework of custodial environments to maximise the influence of Lay Observers on the policy and practice of the humanity of treatment and access to justice of Detained Persons under escort and court custody

Lay Observers are increasing their monthly coverage of courts and detainees and the Chair produces a monthly report to stakeholders on the trends and conclusions arising from them.

The full report can be viewed here:chair-lay-observers-annual-report-201516-final-6-oct-2016-003

For further information please call the Lay Observers Secretariat on 0203 334 3265