Independent monitoring of court custody and escort – key findings, November 2017

In November 2017, Lay Observers spoke to 614 of the 887 people in court custody during their visits.

Lay Observers identified inaccuracies in 274 Person Escort Records (PERs), the documentation used by police, prisons and escort contractors to assess a detainee’s needs and risk factors. This represents almost a third of PERs accompanying the people in court custody during a Lay Observer visit.

195 people had an identified medical condition and 15% of those with a medical condition were in court custody without their medication. This is the same proportion as in October 2017 and may reflect errors occurring when people are being transferred from police custody.

This month has also seen an increase in the number of people in court custody without their medical needs being identified and without prescription medicine being provided – a worrying trend given the risks to an individual’s welfare as a result of errors and omissions relating to healthcare.

A male detained person who had been remanded to prison suffered from a range of health conditions, which were detailed on his PER. When custody staff opened the cell door to allow a Lay Observer to speak to him, they found him lying on the floor just partially conscious. He was taken to hospital by ambulance and was well cared for. However, there was no record of him having received the medication that could have prevented this at the police station where he had spent the night.

One female detained person had been diagnosed as having epilepsy as a result of having had four fits in custody. She needed to control this with medication, but there was no mention of the diagnosis or the medication on the paperwork accompanying her from prison. The custody staff would have needed this information to provide proper care for her in the event of her suffering a fit in court custody.

Mental health conditions were also a concern. In one area the local Liaison and Diversion team were unwilling to visit detained people with mental health issues in court custody. This is being followed up with NHS England.

More positively, November saw a decrease in the number of issues assessed as being at level 2 (a serious matter requiring urgent attention) and at level 3 (an unacceptable incident that should be remedied immediately), with a corresponding increase in level 1 issues (requires attention but not immediately). This welcome improvement reflects the positive engagement between Lay Observers and HMCTS ‘Building Champions’ with efforts being made by HMCTS and contractors to improve the condition and cleanliness of court custody. Lay Observers are highlighting locations where there are protracted delays in making improvements, so that efforts can be targeted to where they will make the greatest impact on the welfare of detained people.

As we are now in winter there has been a growth in the number of court custodies with inadequate cell temperatures caused by malfunctioning heating systems – this can cause great discomfort to people brought to court without warm clothing and can lead to them becoming agitated with staff.

This month has also seen an increase in the number of people being required to share cells at court – this may be as a result of court closures, with cases being transferred to neighbouring courts without the resources to accommodate people in single cells.

There have been welcome reductions in the number of detained people brought to court unnecessarily this month and also a reduction in the waiting time for children and young people being escorted to their destination following a court appearance.