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Lay Observers’ Annual Report shows ‘unacceptable’ treatment of children in English court cells


18 August 2020
Lay Observers’ Annual Report shows ‘unacceptable’ treatment of children in English court cells

The Lay Observers’ annual report for 2019/20 has been published, showing significant shortcomings in prison, police, court, and transport arrangements for detainees. Lay Observers are appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice to provide independent oversight of the welfare of those detained in court cells and transported to and from cells, and of their access to justice. They have unrestricted access to all parts of the custody suite and transportation vehicles to allow scrutiny of everyday conditions. This latest report found variable coordination between agencies at regional and national level, acknowledging good practice in some areas. However, a number of issues affecting the welfare of vulnerable detainees were highlighted, including being kept in dirty cells, sometimes covered with abusive or drug-related graffiti. These conditions are made worse by long delays in transportation to other courts and custodial establishments.

The report shows that errors in relation to medical record-keeping are increasing, which is described as ‘a matter of embarrassment’ for the criminal justice system. Concerns are raised over the rising number of gaps and errors in Person Escort Records (PERs) completed at prisons and police stations when handing a detainee over to escort contractors. 61% of PERs seen for this report were incomplete or inaccurate – a 6% increase on 2018/19. Detainees can therefore become ill or distressed due to a lack of medication resulting from poor communication and lack of information about their circumstances.

Particular cases of concern were highlighted in the report, showing unacceptably long delays experienced by young and vulnerable people.

The ministerial response to the report can be found here.

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