Independent Custody Visitors
MOPAC is responsible for establishing and managing the Independent Custody Visitor service (ICV) in the 32 boroughs of London. This service is staffed by volunteers who visit the various custody facilities which are managed by the Metropolitan Police Service and which serve the 32 boroughs of Greater London. When visiting the facilities, these volunteers check on the treatment of detainees and the conditions in which they are held and seek to ensure that their rights and entitlements are being observed. It is intended that the service will offer protections and confidentiality to detainees and the police and reassurance to the community at large.
Legisislation and Code of Practice
The Code of Practice on independent custody visiting was updated in March 2013 and is issued in accordance with section 51 of the Police Reform Act 2002, as amended by section 117 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and paragraph 299 of Schedule 16 to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. "Local policing bodies and independent custody visitors (ICVs) shall have regard to the Code in carrying out their relevant functions". Throughout this Code, the term ‘police and crime commissioners’ includes the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) (in respect of the Metropolitan Police Service) and the Court of Common Council of the City of London Corporation (in respect of the City of London Police).
The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 extended independent custody visitors’ remit to terrorist suspects in detention. Most recently, the Code of Practice has been amended to set out how this would operate in practice - given the differences between terrorist and non-terrorist investigations and statutory frameworks, there are differences in how independent custody visiting operates in relation to terrorist suspects in detention.
The London Scheme
Independent custody visitors are members of the local community who volunteer to visit police stations unannounced to check on the treatment and welfare of people held in police custody. They come from a variety of backgrounds and sections of the community. They must be over 18 and have no direct involvement in the criminal justice system; for example, they may not be serving police officers or magistrates. Other people such as solicitors or probation officers may be excluded, to prevent possible conflict of interests for the individual. This maintains the independence of the scheme as a whole.
The structure of independent custody visiting in London
An independent custody visitors’ panel operates within each borough. The scheme is made up of over 400 volunteers across 32 panels. The panels visit each 24/7 operational custody suite in their borough once a week. Each panel elects a Chair and Vice Chair, who provide leadership for the panel locally and can reflect local needs and concerns. A member of staff, employed by the MOPAC, also supports each panel. The panel liaises with the local police custody manager who will attend (or send a representative) to each
panel meeting to discuss queries and problems that have arisen out of the custody visits.
Custody visiting in London
Under the Police Reform Act 2002, each police authority has a legal obligation to make arrangements for a custody visiting scheme to operate in its area. Custody visiting in London is managed by MOPAC. The scheme has the full support and cooperation of the Commissioner but is independent of the police. MOPAC holds overall responsibility for the scheme’s management and administration.
Prospective custody visitors are volunteers from within the community. MOPAC is responsible for recruiting, selecting and appointing all custody visitors and should ensure a balance of age, gender and ethnicity. Successful applicants to the scheme should be given training in all aspects of a custody visitor’s role and responsibilities.
The role of custody visitors
Following a successful interview, custody visitors need to complete security vetting and initial training. They are then able to make unannounced visits with another custody visitor to their local custody facility. The objective of all visits is to monitor and report on the treatment and conditions of individual detainees.
Custody visitors are escorted by a custody sergeant/officer or dedicated detention officer (DDO) at all times during the visit. The officer will offer every detainee being held (and not in interview) the opportunity to speak with the custody visitors. S/he will explain the role of custody visitors to the detainees, emphasising their independence from the police. For the visitors’ protection interviews are carried out within sight, but out of hearing, of the escorting police officer.
Strict rules of confidentiality apply. Detainees are only identified by their custody numbers, and the details of what visitors see and hear must be treated as confidential. Custody visitors are not concerned with the alleged offence and must maintain their independence and impartiality at all times. They cannot provide advice to any detainee. They do not become involved or take sides, but are there to look, listen and report on conditions in custody at the time of their visit.
Independent custody visitors are expected to attend local borough panel meetings every 4-8 weeks to discuss the visits they and colleagues have made.
Reporting on visits
After every visit, custody visitors fill out a report form outlining the details of the visit. The form contains all the information about the visit, including details of problems that were resolved immediately and those that need further action. Having completed the report form, custody visitors raise issues with the police before leaving the station.
Copies of the reports are provided for the police, police authority and the ICVs’ panel for follow up and discussion. Details of all custody visits, including the times, dates and any issues raised are held centrally on a database that must be maintained by MOPAC. Where concerns cannot be resolved immediately, the police will report back to the next panel meeting on how they were resolved after the visitors left the station. Most issues are raised and dealt with locally by each panel, but should any more serious issues arise or if problems seem to be occurring across London then MOPAC may raise these directly with the MPS’ Custody Directorate - the department responsible for custody suites, policies, practices and procedures relating to those in custody across London.