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

In October 2017, Lay Observers spoke to 556 of the 793 people in court custody during their visits.

Of these, 159 had an identified medical condition and 14% of those with a medical condition were in court without their medication. This represents an improvement compared to September 2017, but is nonetheless too high.

Lay Observers identified inaccuracies in 250 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 (31%) of PERs accompanying the people in court custody during a Lay Observer visit.

These findings highlight failures to comply with a straightforward process designed to reduce risk and provide appropriate care to detained people. The majority of these errors are entirely avoidable and are the result of poor training or lack of attention. One of the most common errors is the recording of information on a medical condition without providing a contact number for the medical professional responsible for the entry – in an emergency situation, any delay in reaching the professional involved could have a major impact on that person’s care.

In his Annual Report to the Secretary of State for Justice for 2016/17, the Lay Observers Chairman recommended that all agencies completing PERs make concerted efforts to improve their accuracy and that staff should refuse to accept care of any individual without a fully compliant record. In the Ministerial Response Sam Gyimah MP reported that a review of the quality of PERs to focus on missing or poorly communicated risk information would be undertaken – we look forward to the results of the review and are committed to working with the relevant agencies to bring about improvements.

We remain concerned about detained people’s access to information about their rights. In a court custody setting, with a risk of loss of liberty, it is particularly important that people both have the information and understand it. Despite it being relatively easy to make sure each detained person has a leaflet in their language – these can be printed off as needed from a computer in the custody suite – around 12% of court custodies are still not getting this right. Ensuring that people are fully informed about what is happening and their rights in the process can also reduce a potential source of conflict with custody staff and contribute to a calmer and safer atmosphere.

Because of the increased vulnerability of Children and Young People, Lay Observers make particular efforts to speak to any present during their visit. We are pleased to note improvements in reducing the time that Children and Young People remain held at the court following their court appearance.

We are also concerned in relation to the treatment of adults with learning disabilities who may also be especially vulnerable under escort and in court custody. In October, an adult with Down’s Syndrome was brought to court from a police station and spent five and a half hours in a cell in a court custody before her court appearance. The custody and escort contractor involved did not have a policy relating to people with Down’s Syndrome. A doctor attended to provide treatment in relation to a skin complaint, but made no other assessment of the individual’s welfare or ability to understand the situation. After more than seven hours at the court, she was taken to prison on remand. Lay Observers are concerned that the current process for determining an individual’s fitness for trial, relying on a solicitor raising the question with the judiciary, does not provide sufficient safeguards in cases such as this one. Although an unusual occurrence, it is hard to view this as decent or humane treatment.