Government responds to UFFC custody death reform demands

Parliament of Big BenThe following are excerpts from the full letter from Nick Herbert
(Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice):
7th December 2011

Thank you for your letter of 28 October to the Prime Minister about the United Family and Friends campaign: Deaths in state custody. I am replying as the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. I am sorry for the delay.

I can assure you that the Government regrets every death in state custody. The lndependent Police Complaints commission (IPCC) is a Non-Departmental Public Body, established in 2004 under the Police Reform Act 2002 to provide a specific service to the public on behalf of the Home office.

The lPCC is independent – by law – and they make their decisions independently of the police, Government, complainants and interest groups.

This means that:

  1. All complaints must be dealt with in accordance with legislation and the guidance issued by the IPCC and agreed by the Home Secretary;
  2. All complainants who have their complaints dealt with by the police in the
  3. first instance have a right of appeal to the IPCC;
  4. They independently investigate the most serious incidents and complaints; and,
  5. They report publicly on the outcome of investigations and make local and national recommendations as appropriate to help to ensure that the same thing does not go wrong again.

Deaths and serious injury arising from police custody is one of the specific priority areas identified by the IPCC in its Corporate Plan 2011-14. Attention is being focussed on this area, along with the other five priority areas (NB: See full letter) identified for the IPCC, to ensure that police forces learn and improve, that such incidents and complaints reduce in number and that public confidence generally improves.

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 makes it clear that an inquest verdict of unlawful killing may not be framed in such a way as to appear to determine any question of criminality on the part of a named person.

ln accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, before a prosecution can be brought, the Crown Prosecution Service lawyer must be satisfied that there is a “realistic prospect of conviction” – that is to say that it is more likely than not that a jury properly directed will be satisfied beyond any reasonable doubt that each accused is guilty of each charge – and that it is in the public interest to do so.

You state that officers should be prosecuted even if they have retired. Can I emphasise that there is no reason whatsoever that prevents an officer being criminally prosecuted after retirement. However, they cannot internal police be subject to or prison disciplinary procedures after they have retired.

The Government fully endorses the requirement for all deaths in custody to be sufficiently investigated to meet the state’s investigative obligations under Article 2 of the European convention on Human Rights specialty on deaths in prison custody, all such deaths, including apparent self-inflicted deaths, suspected natural causes, apparent homicides or where the cause of death is not immediately apparent, are subject to an investigation by the police, the prisons and Probation ombudsman (ppo) and a coroner’s inquest before a jury.

You also suggest placing police body cameras and cameras on all police vehicles. We have no plans to introduce the mandatory use by the police at all times or body worn cameras and cameras in all police vehicles. There would be likely to be significant implications under the Data Protection Act 1998 in that there is a requirement that the amount of personal data held by an organisation shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed. lntroducing a universal requirement would also appear to place disproportionate bureaucratic and resource burdens on the service.

I understand that Crispin Blunt in his reply set out information regarding the civil legal aid scheme. For your information I have reiterated the advice below. whilst funding for representation at inquests is outside the usual scope of the civil legal aid scheme, funding for death in custody inquests is available where certain criteria are met. Most death in custody cases meet these criteria, and the Government has delegated the authority to grant funding in these cases to the Legal Services Commission (LSC).

The LSC also has the discretion to waive financial eligibility limits for representation in these inquests. The LSC can waive the eligibility limits where, in all the circumstances, it would not be reasonable to expect the family to bear the full costs of representation at the inquest. Whether this is reasonable will depend in particular on the history of the case and the nature of the allegations to be raised, the applicant’s assessed disposable income and capital, other financial resources of the family, and the estimated costs of providing representation.

I hope that this goes some way towards addressing your points.

See the full letter: Download it here >