Court custody facilities in Norfolk and Suffolk - greater scrutiny needed to drive up standards

Detainees were treated with care, but greater scrutiny was needed to improve standards in court cells and staff shortages needed to be resolved, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an inspection of court custody facilities in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The inspection was the fifth in a new programme of inspections of court custody carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. At the time of inspection there were two crown courts and six magistrates’ courts in Norfolk and Suffolk. Serco Wincanton had been contracted to provide the custody and escort operations for HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) in the region.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
  • relationships between HMCTS and the contractor were positive, but as in other regions, there was uncertainty about the extent and nature of the HMCTS role in relation to the custody facilities;
  • there were few formal channels through which problems concerning the care of detainees in court custody could be resolved;
  • the HMCTS language interpretation provision did not supply a suitable service on every occasion which led to the court having to remand detainees in custody because they could not ascertain if the detainee understood or consented to bail conditions;
  • this seriousness of this issue was compounded by the lack of a telephone interpretation service in the custody suite itself, so detainees with little English did not know what was happening to them;
  • there were staff shortages at some courts and it was not clear why this issue had not been resolved earlier through the Prisoner Escort and Contract Services (PECS) contract;
  • staff lacked training in local safeguarding procedures and looking after young people;
  • at some courts, the temperature of the cells was unsatisfactory and there were no blankets to mitigate this; and
  • while custody staff strove to provide good care to vulnerable detainees, they struggled to maintain the mandatory regime of checking every detainee at least once every 10 minutes and recording it.
However, inspectors were pleased to find that:
  • at most courts, cleanliness was better than inspectors had seen elsewhere;
  • custody staff treated detainees courteously and there were some very good examples of detainee care; and
  • detainees were positive about staff and said they felt well looked after.
Nick Hardwick said:
‘In Norfolk and Suffolk courts, standards of detainee care were hampered by shortages of staff, the limitations of the physical environment in some courts, and the lack of robust, multi-agency forums in which difficulties in court custody could be discussed and resolved. HMCTS and PECS need to clarify their respective responsibilities towards detainees in court custody, and exercise more scrutiny so that concerns are identified and resolved with greater determination and accountability.’
Notes to Editors
  1. A copy of the report. (209 kB)
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. This report is the fifth in a new programme of inspections of court custody. These inspections contribute to the UK’s response to its international obligation to ensure regular and independent inspection of all places of detention. The inspections look at strategy, individual rights, and treatment and conditions, including health care.
  4. The court custody facilities in this area comprised: Norwich Crown Court, Ipswich Crown Court and King’s Lynn, Norwich, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Magistrates’ Courts.
  5. This joint inspection was carried out from 30 September-4 October 2013.
  6. Please contact Jane Parsons on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview with Nick Hardwick.