Lay Observers (LOs) have raised a number of concerns in their newly published annual report, the most serious being that courts on Saturday’s or Bank Holidays are sometimes having to make remand decisions without important information, which should be provided by support services.
Covid-19 restrictions made in-person visits by LOs impossible at times, but they continued to carry out distance monitoring during the pandemic. LOs generally commended the dedication of staff, who were working in a challenging environment but made every effort to look after the detainees in their care.
However, the LO annual report, which covered the period of April 2020 to March 2021, noted a few areas of concern, many of which were out of the hands of individual staff to resolve:
- Lack of Liaison and Diversion or probation support staff availability on Saturday’s or Bank Holidays, risking courts remanding people into custody for the weekend due to a lack of information about that individual;
- Inconsistency in quality and completeness of information provided in Personal Escort Records (PERs) continued to be a problem. Very often insufficient information about the detained person prevented custody officers making effective risk assessments.
John Thornhill, Chair of the LOs, said,
“Although custody staff were generally seen to be doing the best they could in difficult circumstances, LOs flagged a number of issues that are very concerning. PERs are the main avenue for sharing information about a detained person, and therefore it is vital that they include all relevant details. We repeat our call for greater consistency in respect of PERs and for responsibility for quality assurance to be given to a national body. Lack of information was also an issue in courts on Saturday’s or Bank Holidays, risking someone being remanded unnecessarily, and possibly infringing their human rights.”