1. This document puts into context the Codes of Practice that underpin paragraph 51 of the Police Reform Act 2002 and identifies what are considered to be national standards to which all involved in the process aspire. These standards have been developed through the experience of operating visiting arrangements throughout England and Wales. It also encourages police authorities and independent custody visitors to establish their own local practises.
2. The statutory instrument, the related codes of practice and this document replace Home Office Circular 15/2001, which has now been withdrawn. It has been produced following detailed discussions in a working group including representatives from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of police authorities, the Association of police authorities Clerks, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Home Office, the Metropolitan police authority, the Independent Custody Visiting Association, the Police Complaints Authority, the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents’ Association.
3. While the Home Office provides a Code of Practice on the key principles of independent custody visiting, responsibility for delivery lies with police authority in consultation with forces. Within these National Standards there is an important role for the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA), which supports and promotes the visiting process. The Home Office continues to be committed to working in partnership with the ICVA as a repository of experience, advice and best practice.
4. European Convention on Human Rights 2 October 2000 saw the implementation of the Human Rights Act and the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into our domestic law. The treatment of those in police custody is one key indicator of the extent to which we are embracing the culture of rights, which these legal changes are intended to reinforce. Independent custody visiting provides an important check on that treatment and police authority should ensure that the visiting arrangements they apply are as effective as possible. This guidance is intended to help in achieving that.
B. The Process
1. Volunteers from the community are recruited and approved by the police authority and following training suitably organised to visit local police stations. Unannounced visits are made at varying times of the day and night, with volunteers having immediate access to the custody area. The conditions of detention and the treatment of individual detainees are checked. As part of that process there will usually be discussion with custody staff and detainees who are required to give their consent before being spoken to. Independent custody visitors must raise issues needing immediate attention by the police. After every visit they will produce a written report of their findings. Arrangements must be in place for output from visits to be discussed by groups of visitors and communicated to the police at local, area and force level. There must also be regular feedback to the police authority and a commitment to publicising the work and, where appropriate, the findings of independent custody visitors.
Section 51(6) of the Police Reform Act 2002 and the Codes of Practice paras 1-3 set out the statutory requirements.
To explain the process ICVA has:
- Developed a website packed with relevant materials (www.icva.org.uk)
- Produced a community awareness video
- Designed a leaflet which has been translated into 19 languages
- Created posters depicting a number of images to assist recruitment and heighten awareness
- Produced a student workbook sets out the list of relevant articles and the significant implications from this legislation for all involved in the process
- Developed ‘An Introduction to Cultural Awareness’ module for police authority independent visitors
C. Organisation and Infrastructure
1. The responsibility for organising and overseeing the delivery of independent custody visiting lies with police authority, in consultation with chief constables. police authority must therefore ensure that they have in place robust and effective procedures for establishing and maintaining their independent custody visiting schemes, including the allocation of sufficient resources to this function. This includes:
- Publicising the work of their schemes
- Developing a policy/policies to maintain and enhance the effectiveness of schemes
- Ensuring the maintenance of appropriate organisational arrangements and visiting patterns
- Overseeing the recruitment, approval and training of independent custody visitors
- Establishing and maintaining effective systems for feeding back to the police authority on a regular basis the output from visits, and putting in place the necessary action to respond to issues as they arise
- Facilitating meetings of their independent custody visitors to discuss their work and issues arising from it
- Monitoring performance against the agreed frequency of visits
2. police authority must consider locally what arrangements are needed in order to undertake these responsibilities efficiently and effectively, including the nomination of an officer for the central administration of the independent custody visiting scheme, supported as necessary by other staff and resources.
3. The key role of the 'central administrator(s)' should be to ensure that the scheme is running effectively on a day-to-day basis and to act as a source of advice and support for those organising independent custody visiting at a local level.
4. The central administration should not be undertaken by the police force or by individuals reporting to the chief constable.
5. Experience has shown that the most effective arrangements are normally based on groups or panels of volunteers organised to visit police stations within a prescribed area. It may be useful to base these areas on police organisational structures covering divisions or command units.
6. Every local group should have its own co-ordinator responsible for organising the work of its members. Key elements of the co-ordinator's duties will be:
- ensuring that a suitable pattern of visiting is established and applied
- acting as a conduit for feedback to local police commanders and the police authority
- facilitating meetings and discussions between group members
- forming the interface between individual independent custody visitors and those with central responsibility for the system at police authority level.
7. Local co-ordinators may face a considerable burden of administration (for example, in relation to developing rosters, writing reports and arranging meetings). police authority may wish to consider the provision of access to funded clerical or secretarial support.
8. There is no ideal size for local groups in terms of the number of police stations they cover or the number of individual independent custody visitors they involve. However, coverage should not be so extensive as to detract from the essentially local nature of the arrangements. Allowing for that, groups must include sufficient numbers of volunteers to ensure the agreed programme of visits can be maintained.
9. Effective organisation and administration is very important to retaining and boosting the commitment of those involved in independent custody visiting on a voluntary basis. Visitors who feel properly supported and valued are more likely to continue with the work and carry out their duties in a positive and enthusiastic manner. Independent custody visiting is essentially a community-based initiative and local groups should have some degree of autonomy to fit their approach and procedures to local conditions and needs. However, that should be within a clear organisational framework established by the police authority and taking account of the guidance set out in this circular.
Section 51(6) of the Police Reform Act 2002 and the Codes of Practice paras 4–6 set out the statutory requirements.
To assist police authorities and independent custody visitors ICVA has:
- Developed a website packed with relevant materials (www.icva.org.uk)
- Produced a community awareness video
- Designed a leaflet which has been translated into 19 languages
- Created posters depicting a number of images to assist recruitment and heighten awareness.
D. Recruitment and Conditions of Service
1. police authorities, who are responsible for recruiting, selecting and appointing independent custody visitors, need to establish clear policies and procedures covering these processes. The work must be adequately resourced so that functions such as publicising opportunities for volunteers, processing applications and conducting interviews can be carried out effectively.
2. One key policy objective must be to ensure that adequate numbers of suitably accredited and trained independent custody visitors are available at all times throughout the police authority area to carry out the required programme of visits. This priority must be integrated with the equally important objective of ensuring that visitors are representative of the local community and provide a suitable balance in terms of factors such as age, gender and ethnicity.
3. Managing recruitment to balance these priorities requires forward planning which focuses on factors such as the size of local groups, the number of independent custody visitors required and the level of visitor retention. Such planning is much more likely to be successful where it is based on a rolling programme of recruitment rather than only when vacancies arise. A rolling programme can also help in linking recruitment to training and ensuring a flow of new visitors who are fully aware of their duties and equipped to carry them out.
4. police authorities might find it helpful to form a small representative group to advise on and help oversee the recruitment and selection process. In addition to a central co-ordinator, members could include police authority members, local group co-ordinators and community representatives. It might be appropriate for selection panels to be drawn from members of this group.
Codes of Practice paras 7– 8 set out the statutory requirements.
The recruitment process
5. The independent custody visitor job description should list the relevant duties and emphasise the need to provide reports and feedback as well as the basic process of attending police stations. A 'person specification’ - which sets out the qualities independent custody visitors require to carry out their role effectively - can guide recruitment and interviewing and help to provide a foundation for dealing with any appeals against unfairness in the selection process.
6. Once the basis for recruitment is established, consideration must be given to how to publicise opportunities and attract applicants. Advertising in the local media is recommended as the most obvious and open way to contact a broad section of the local community. However, the need to ensure independent custody visitors are representative of the community as a whole may argue for some targeting of recruitment at specific groups, perhaps through local community organisations, police/community consultative groups, local media or via the newsletters of voluntary organisations, churches and other religious groups. Word of mouth recommendations remain a legitimate source of potential independent custody visitors, but care must be taken to ensure this does not lead to an imbalance through existing visitors recommending people from similar backgrounds to themselves. Any appointment must ultimately be made solely on merit.
7. When people enquire about appointments they should be sent basic information covering the purpose of the system, the role of the independent custody visitor, the commitment required and the terms and conditions applicable to the local scheme. This material should accompany the basic job description and the application form.
8. All selection must be on the basis of a standard application form. The precise format is a matter for the discretion of the police authority, but information on age and ethnic origin will be useful in ensuring a balanced recruitment. Details of all criminal convictions (whether or unspent) cautions, reprimands and final warnings should always be sought. Authorities may also wish to include questions about the applicant’s occupation and their health. Asking applicants to state why they are seeking to become independent custody visitors can help in assessing motivation and relevant background knowledge and can be linked to questions about involvement in other voluntary or community work and their relevant skills. Seeking information about how they became aware of independent custody visiting can assist in reviewing recruitment strategy and it is good practice to ask for referees, who can then provide an insight into character and commitment. All application forms should include a statement that the recruitment process will be guided by equal opportunities principles.
9. Those responsible for recruitment should sift applications on the basis of the agreed person specification. In addition, a police vetting check should be carried out to verify information provided about criminal convictions. Application forms should request consent to such checks being carried out.
10. Suitable applicants should be asked to attend an interview and no one must be appointed as an independent custody visitor without an interview. The main purpose of this is to test suitability against the person specification referred to above, and to maintain consistency and objectivity in selecting from the field of potential independent custody visitors. The selection panel must record the reasons for decisions about appointment and non-appointment. This helps to demonstrate fairness and provides any necessary feedback to those who have been unsuccessful where requested.
11. Similar recruitment principles will generally be applicable to selecting central administrators and local co-ordinators. Certainly there is a need for clear job descriptions and person specifications. Consideration should also be given to active succession planning for these key posts, so that timely arrangements are always in hand to fill vacancies with suitably skilled and experienced people.
Codes of Practice paras 9–13 set out the statutory requirements.
ICVA has produced detailed practical guidance on recruitment procedures and is a good source of general advice in this area. To assist police authorities with their recruitment process ICVA has developed an administration section on its website, www.icva.org.uk that includes:
- A sample independent custody visitor job description
- A sample independent custody visitor person specification
- A sample co-ordinator visitor job description
- A sample independent custody visitor, equal opportunities
- A sample monitoring form for independent custody visitor decisions.
Word of mouth recommendations remain a legitimate source of potential independent custody visitors.
The selection panel should agree the format of standard questions to test suitability against the person specification referred to above and to maintain consistency and objectivity
Who should be selected?
12. The key priority is for independent custody visitors to be recruited from and representative of the local community. Local groups must aim for balance in terms of age range, gender and ethnicity as the scheme will lack effectiveness and credibility if those participating are drawn from too narrow a section of the local community. This inclusive approach must extend to those with disabilities and those who do not have English as their first language. All reasonable efforts should be made to accommodate applicants in these categories as independent custody visitors where they are considered suitable candidates.
13. Visitors must be independent persons of good character who are able to make informed judgements in which the community can have confidence and which the police will accept as fair.
14. Where applicants have convictions (whether spent or unspent) for criminal offences, those responsible for selection must consider any bearing that this may have on their suitability as independent custody visitors. Relevant factors will include the nature and number of any offences and how long ago they were committed. However, past offending must not be an automatic barrier to acceptance as an independent custody visitor and each case needs to be considered individually. Any failure to disclose convictions will also need to be taken into account.
15. In appointing independent custody visitors, care must be taken to avoid any potential conflict of interest. For example, serving police officers and other serving members of police or police authority staff will be unsuitable for this reason. The same will apply to special constables, justices of the peace and members of the police authority. Where persons in these categories have left or retired from relevant duties, they may be suitable for appointment, taking into consideration factors such as the geographical location where they would be carrying out visits and the length of time since they left the relevant employment.
Applications from others involved with the criminal justice system should be considered individually. For example, solicitors and members of the probation service may find that the duties of an independent custody visitor conflicts with their professional responsibilities. However, there is no hard and fast rule in such cases and each application should be looked at on its individual merits, with regard to the public service principle of being seen to be independent and impartial.
16. There is no longer any barrier to independent custody visitors also acting as appropriate adults. Individuals must not switch between the role of independent custody visitor and appropriate adult during the course of a visit to the same police station as this could blur responsibilities and create confusion for all concerned.
17. There is no reason why independent custody visitors should not also be able to act as lay observers who are appointed under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to inspect the conditions under which prisoners are transported and held.
Codes of Practice para 14 - 20 set out the statutory requirements.
Basis of service
18. It is vital that those recruited as independent custody visitors have a clear understanding of the expectations on them and of the support that the police authority should provide. Each visitor must be provided with a written memorandum of understanding, which summarises their agreed responsibilities and legitimate expectations. The content of this is a matter for individual authorities, but will need to include many of the issues covered elsewhere in this guidance.
19. The police authority will need to provide each independent custody visitor with a suitable pass (time-limited to their period of appointment) which functions as their approval to visit any police station or other facility in the force area holding detainees on a regular or temporary basis.
Codes of Practice para 21 – 22 set out the statutory requirements.
20. Independent custody visitors should be at least 18 years of age, but the Home Office does not seek to recommend any upper age limit.
21. Appointments must initially be for three years and must not be confirmed until a probationary period of six months has been satisfactorily completed. Full reviews of suitability must take place at regular intervals but no longer than three years apart. The key factors in reviewing appointments for further periods must be the continuing ability and the willingness of individuals involved to do the job effectively.
Codes of Practice para 23 sets out the statutory requirements.
22. A police authority can remove an independent custody visitor’s accreditation because of misconduct or poor performance.
23. Procedures for considering possible removal should follow the principles of natural justice and be publicised.
Codes of Practice paras 24–25 set out the statutory requirements.
The central independent custody visiting administrator for the police authority area should notify the independent custody visitor concerned of the grounds on which removal is being considered and advise them that they can make oral or written representations or both. There should also be an avenue of appeal to the police authority itself. No one who heard the initial case for removal should be party to the appeal process.
24. Procedures must be in place to consider complaints against individual independent custody visitors by detainees, police personnel or others. There must also be a clear mechanism for handling complaints from visitors and issues of concern arising from their work.
Codes of Practice para 26 sets out the statutory requirements.
25. Independent custody visitors are entitled to be reimbursed for legitimate expenses incurred in carrying out their role.
Codes of Practice para 27 sets out the statutory requirements
26. The police authority must ensure adequate cover and provision for claims arising from independent custody visitors’ role.
Codes of Practice para 28 sets out the statutory requirements.