Government responds to deaths in police custody report
31 October 2017
THE GOVERNMENT has published a report of the independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody, as well as its own response to the findings.
The major independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody was commissioned by Prime Minister Theresa May in July 2015, while she was still Home Secretary, following her meetings with bereaved families. It has been carried out by Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC.
The review makes 110 recommendations, regarding the use of restraint, the custody environment, training for officers and making it easier for families facing inquests into deaths in police custody to access legal aid. Some of the key recommendations include:
- A new presumption that legal aid should be awarded to families in cases of deaths in police custody;
- Use of police cells banned for under 18s in mental health crisis from December; and
- Ministerial council to develop further solutions to healthcare in police custody, in both the inquest process and the post-incident support available for bereaved families
The government’s response commits to review existing guidance so that the starting presumption is that legal aid should be awarded for representation of the bereaved at an inquest following a suspicious death or suicide in police custody or in prison.
It also makes clear that from December, police cells will not be used as places of safety for those under the age of 18 detained under the Mental Health Act and that transparency and accountability in police use of force has been improved through better data collection.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “This report shines a light on this profoundly important issue and the government thanks Dame Elish Angiolini for her comprehensive review which sets out a clear need for action.
“When my predecessor Theresa May met the bereaved families, she was struck by the difficulties they faced as they sought answers about what happened to their loved ones. This simply isn’t right, and is why the government is taking steps to ensure that families bereaved in this way in future get the support and answers they need.
“The government is committed to tackling this issue, and when tragically deaths in police custody do occur, we are clear that they must be investigated thoroughly and action taken to support families better in future.”
In relation to the new presumption that legal aid should be awarded, the Lord Chancellor will make clear in the guidance that bereaved families should be spared the distress of filling out complex paperwork around means testing where possible.
This work will be completed by the end of the year, alongside steps to ensure the bereaved are made fully aware of their rights under this guidance in every case. The government says work is also already in progress across a number of areas raised in the review, which includes:
- A cross-government ministerial council, consisting of ministers from the Home Office, Department of Health and Ministry of Justice and an Independent Advisory Panel, will consider further recommendations for healthcare, inquests and support for families’;
- Limiting the use of police cells as places of safety. From December, police cells will not be used as places of safety for those under the age of 18 detained under the Mental Health Act and stringent controls will be put in place about their use for adults. The government has provided £30 million to the NHS to ensure there is sufficient provision of alternative and health-based places of safety;
- Publishing the Concordat on Children in Custody – already signed by all police forces and the majority of local authorities in England – representing a commitment to ensure children who are charged and denied bail are transferred from police custody to local authority care, and never held overnight in a police cell; and
- Improving transparency and accountability in police use of force through better data collection
You can see the government’s full response to the review by clicking HERE.