The detention of persons in police custody in Northern Ireland

Publication: 30/09/20
Inspectors find improvements in police custody arrangements and recommend roll out of nurse-led health care provision across Northern Ireland


A new inspection by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has examined the governance, standards and delivery of police custody arrangements in Northern Ireland.
 
The inspection, which was carried out in line with CJI and RQIA’s role as partner members of the United Kingdom National Preventive Mechanism (UK NPM), examined how detainees were treated while in police custody and the conditions in which they were held to ensure the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI’s) legal obligations and human rights standards were being met.

“Every day PSNI officers, police staff and health care colleagues working in police custody deal with numerous detainees, all who have individual needs, many who have a complex range of mental health, alcohol and substance misuse and behaviour issues,” said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.  

“Effectively engaging with each person who comes into their care to ensure their immediate physical and mental health needs are met and they are held safely and securely, presents a constantly challenging work environment.

“This inspection found that progress had been made since our last inspection in 2016 to improve the governance arrangements and the strategic management of police custody,” said the Chief Inspector.

Training provided to police officers and staff working in custody suites across Northern Ireland had a focus on vulnerability and during fieldwork for this inspection, Inspectors saw examples of custody staff who were skilled and experienced in dealing with distressed, intoxicated and challenging people and circumstances.

A new nurse-led model of health care provision was being piloted at Musgrave custody suite in Belfast in partnership with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Public Health Agency.

“The introduction of this new model had strengthened oversight and accountability arrangements for health care staff in Belfast and helped address weaknesses in clinical governance highlighted by CJI and RQIA Inspectors in previous police custody inspections,” said Ms Durkin.

“It focuses on the health and wellbeing of the detained person, providing signposting to mental health and addiction interventions and pathways as well as the essential service required within the custody environment.

“The Musgrave health care pilot provides positive evidence of what can be achieved when the PSNI and Health and Social Care Trusts work together. We have recommended that the implementation of a nurse-led custody model of health care provision is progressed in police custody suites across Northern Ireland.

“This would help ensure consistency around health care practice, access to medical records and address inconsistencies in the storage and management of medicines and medical equipment,” said the Chief Inspector.

Inspectors found challenges in relation to dealing with children and young people from a ‘Looked After’ or care experienced background identified in previous inspection reports remained to be addressed.  

‘Looked After’ children were more likely to be brought to police custody than young people living with their parents or guardians and were more likely to be held in police custody for longer periods of time.

“A police cell is a daunting place for anyone, never mind a child in the care system. The longstanding issues of why these children are more likely to be in police custody, are held longer than their peers and their rights to bail need to be urgently addressed.  We have recommended the Department of Justice prioritise the legislative reform that is needed.

“We have also recommended that discussions between the PSNI and health and social care partners to address the issue of ‘Looked After’ children being held in police custody cells which had previously stalled, should recommence within the next three months,” said Ms Durkin.

This report makes six strategic and seven operational recommendations which, if implemented, the Chief Inspector stated would help secure further improvements and the better delivery of police custody arrangements in Northern Ireland in the future.