Independent monitoring of court custody and escort – key findings – February 2018

In February 2018, Lay Observers spoke to 566 of the 792 people in court custody during their visits.

The number of the most serious incidents – level 3 reports – increased this month from 14 in January to 23 in February. However, most of these related to just three courts – Durham, Truro and Bedlington. These incidents largely related to the poor way in which people’s healthcare needs were recorded in the documentation which accompanies detained people and the way in which their needs were managed. For example, at Bedlington Magistrates Court a man was brought to court from police custody and told staff that he was on methadone but had not received a dose for two days. Initially he didn’t report any symptoms, but later started to feel unwell. He went on to collapse in his cell in the presence of the Lay Observer.

Lay Observers remain concerned that almost a quarter (22%) of people with medical needs were in custody without their medication this month. As well as being concerned that detained people have their health needs met while the Secretary of State for Justice owes them a duty of care, Lay Observers are also concerned about the way in which inadequate healthcare can impact on an individual’s ability to properly participate in legal proceedings and have their access to justice protected. In the Bedlington case, the Lay Observer was very concerned that the man in question was not fit enough to participate in Court proceedings following his collapse.

The remainder of the most serious incidents related to poor facilities maintenance issues at Snaresbrook, Sheffield, Thames, Preston and Westminster courts.

Despite recent concerted efforts to improve the way health needs and risks are recorded in the documentation accompanying detained people on journeys between police custody, court and prison – the Person Escort Record – more than 50% of those inspected by Lay Observers still contained errors. Rather than being simply an administrative matter, errors in data recording and information sharing can result in inadequate care of the individual or inaccurate assessment of the risk they present to themselves, other detained people and staff. These errors represent unnecessary risk taking in what is already a high risk environment, and this does not seem to fit with the respectful and considerate way most contractor staff approach their responsibilities for the people in their custody.

Lay Observers are working with all the agencies involved to bring errors to their attention and work with them to improve the guidance given to those completing records.