WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
November 30 2021
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO

London custody suites ‘neglected, shabby and grubby’, reports watchdog

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London custody suites ‘neglected, shabby and grubby’, reports watchdog

Old Bailey: the central criminal court of England and Wales

A prison inspection looking at court custody in London has reported ‘significant staff shortages at all grades’ and reported that suites were ‘neglected, shabby and grubby’. The private contractor Serco runs the prisoner escort and custody service for the court service. Since the last inspection, two people had died in custody in the facilities inspected, Westminster Magistrates’ Court and the Inner London Crown Court. The report noted: ’More attention was now given to excessive temperatures in the cells, but detainees were still not consistently provided with information in a language that they could understand.’

It was reported that some 28,000 people were held last year at 15 facilities in the capital including six crown courts, six magistrates’ courts, two immigration asylum chambers as well as the Royal Courts of Justice.  Inspectors found staff ‘struggling to offload vehicles promptly’, delays accessing lawyers and delays in release and important conversations with detainees being ‘rushed’. ‘We were told that delays transporting detainees to prison were also often caused by inadequate staffing,’ the report said. ‘These challenges were compounded when there was either no manager, or no suitably experienced manager, to provide direction and ensure the smooth operation of the suite.’

Women traveling to court with men was routine, often without any screening. For example, in a two-week period, more than one-third of female detainees travelled in vehicles with men. Inspectors deemed this ‘unacceptable’ because it exposed women to the risk of verbal abuse.

Almost one in five journeys with children took place in cellular vehicles (17%), all children were locked in cells and many faced long waits in court custody. ‘In the busier courts, some cells remained in use despite offensive graffiti… . We found potential ligature points in every custody facility, generally caused by ill- fitting doors or the lack of sealant around benches and observation panels.’