Death in custody

Death in custody

333 people died in or immediately after police custody in the years 1999 to 2009,  according to statistics from the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The MoJ report that last year 58 prisoners committed suicide. Now, for the first time, police forces, prisons, youth detention centres and the UK Border Agency could face prosecution for corporate homicide if an individual dies in their custody.

Section 2(1)(d) of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 prescribes a duty of care to a person who, by reason of being a person within subsection (2), is someone for whose safety the organisation is responsible. Subsection (2) states that a person is within this subsection if –

(a) he is detained at a custodial institution or in a custody area at a court or police station;

(b) he is detained at a removal centre or short-term holding facility;

(c) he is being transported in a vehicle, or being held in any premises, in pursuance of prison escort arrangements or immigration escort arrangements;

(d) he is living in secure accommodation in which he has been placed;

(e) he is a detained patient.

Implementation of this clause has been delayed to give police forces and prisons time to inspect their custody facilities and make sure they are up to the required standards. Now Commencement No.3 Order 2011 brings the provisions into force on 1st September.

Among campaigners welcoming the new provisions is Inquest, a charitable organisation that provides a specialist advice service to bereaved people, lawyers, other advice and support agencies, the media, MPs and the wider public on contentious deaths and their investigation. Their casework priorities are deaths in custody (police, prison, immigration detention and deaths of detained patients). The monitoring of such deaths means that they claim to be at the forefront of uncovering patterns and trends, and within this area there are particular concerns about the deaths of women, black people, young people, and people with mental health problems.

Inquest say that, until now, there has been no successful prosecutions for deaths in custody, even in the 10 cases since 1990 where an inquest jury had returned an unlawful killing verdict. Helen Shaw, their co-director, believes that the new provisions will provide a fresh avenue to address the problems of death in custody and should have a deterrent effect, preventing future deaths.

Writing in the ‘Guardian’, Sandra Laville says: “Prosecutions will take place if it can be proved that the way the facilities are managed or organised caused a death and amounted to a breach of the duty of care. The penalty for organisations convicted is a fine with no maximum limit. Crown Prosecution Service guidance says that the fines are likely to be in the many millions of pounds.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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