“Independent Custody Visiting is the well-established system whereby volunteers attend police stations to check on the treatment of detainees and the conditions in which they are held and that their rights and entitlements are being observed. It offers protections to both detainees and the police and reassurance to the community at large.”
— Home Office Code of Practice, 2003
Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) are members of the community who have been selected through an interview and training process. 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, magistrates, serving police officers or special constables are excluded. Their main duty is to visit police stations unannounced to check on the welfare of people in police custody. Visits are always undertaken in pairs.
Role of the ICV
Custody Suites are visited weekly, with the actual timing being totally at their own discretion. On arrival at the custody suite, ICVs are escorted to the custody area. The detainees are identified by their custody number allowing the strictest application of confidentiality. Interviews with detainees are normally carried out within sight, but out of hearing of the escorting officer to ensure the highest level of personal safety.
A report is completed after each visit. It provides an insight into the running of the custody area at the time of the visit. Copies of the report are provided for the Police, Police and Crime Commissioner and the Independent Custody Visitor. Information provided is vital evidence on the environmental and welfare conditions in which the detainees are held. The information is analysed and the areas for action are highlighted.
In Warwickshire in 2017 there were 83 visits to custody, with no major issues reported.
There are two panels of ICVs in Warwickshire, one for the north of the county (8 members) and one for the south (13 members). The Northern Panel visit the custody suite in the Nuneaton Justice Centre and the Southern Panel visit detainees held at the Warwickshire Justice Centre in Leamington Spa.
Each panel has its own panel co-ordinator, taken from their ranks. Panel co-ordinators have additional responsibility in relation to the scheme which includes:
- producing the annual visiting roster
- arranging and chairing panel meetings
- raising issues arising from visits with the relevant police Inspector
- identifying training needs
- meeting on a regular basis with the designated officer in the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner
Responsibility for the provision of an Independent Custody Visitor Service
Responsibility for the provision of an Independent Custody Visitor Service transferred from the former Police Authority to Police and Crime Commissioners in November 2012.
A member of staff of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner has overall responsibility for the administration of the scheme, working closely with the Chairs of the two ICV Panels.
Independent Custody Visiting Association
Warwickshire’s Office of Police and Crime Commissioner is a member of the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA), which is voluntary organisation that promotes the custody visiting process nationally by providing support and advice to Police and Crime Commissioners and training for visitors.
The Association assists the Home Office, Police and Crime Commissioners and other interested bodies to develop best practice for custody visiting schemes and to increase public awareness and understanding. Their website can be found at www.icva.org.uk.