Tayside Joint Police Board
Independent Custody Visitors and the Independent Custody Visiting Scheme
Who are they?
Independent Custody visitors are people who make random visits, in pairs, to police stations, to check on the welfare of people who are in police custody. They come from all walks of life and sections of the community, and must be over 18. The only people who cannot become visitors are JPs, serving or former police officers or special constables and support staff. Other people may be excluded if they have direct involvement with the criminal justice system, such as solicitors or probation officers, or with the Police Board. This is to prevent a possible conflict of interests for the individual, and to maintain the independence of the scheme as a whole.
A criminal conviction will not necessary prevent anyone from becoming an Independent Custody visitor (see application form (50 KB MS Word) for information required). Each such application is treated on its merits.
How are they selected and trained?
Potential applicants are invited to attend an information/briefing session organised by the police authority before the interviews. This is not part of the selection process, but will provide those who are subsequently appointed with the basic knowledge of what the job entails. Candidates will then be invited to attend a formal interview conducted by members of the Police Board who make a final decision on who should be appointed. Not all applicants will necessarily be selected for interview.
Independent Custody visitors are expected to attend more detailed training sessions as arranged by the Police Board and group meetings on new developments and to maintain contact with other custody visitors. The group meetings are held approximately every 3 months.
When and where are visits made?
Those appointed are issued with an official identity card. The actual timing and frequency of visits are entirely a matter for custody visitors. Most custody visitors carry out between 10 and 12 visits a year.
The police stations in Tayside which have custody areas are:-
- Eastern Division - Arbroath
- Western Division - Perth
- Central Division - Dundee
Custody visitors will visit all these police stations in accordance with a rota which is drawn up every 6 months. A senior police officer may actually ask you to visit the police station if they consider that a particular arrest or series of arrests may have given rise to concern and anxiety in the community.
What happens when you make a visit?
When you arrive at the police station a police officer (usually the custody sergeant) will tell you how many people are in custody. They will then ascertain how many of those detained wish to see you, and the detainees will be told your name. (It is possible that individuals may know you and may not wish you to see them or know that they are in custody). You will not be told the detainee's name (who will be identified to you only by a number) or why they are in custody.
The police are concerned that whilst pursuing your duties you do not obstruct them in carrying out theirs. They will expect:-
- That you will not interest yourself in the legal or evidential aspects of whatever matter has brought an individual into custody. (That does not mean, however, that if a detainee makes an allegation about, for example, an unduly rough arrest, you would ignore it).
- That an interview will not be interrupted or delayed to give you access to a detainee. (It is open to you, of course, to wait until the police interview is concluded).
- That you may be refused access to an individual if the police feel that it might prejudice an important investigation. (This would be a very exceptional occurrence and would be reported to both the Police Board and to the Chief Constable).
It is also possible that you may be asked to wait or return later, if you arrive at the police station when the custody officer is particularly busy or an emergency has occurred such as a major road accident.
Are there any risks?
The duty may sometimes be unpleasant but it should not bring you into danger. Your interviews with detainees are, for your own protection, normally carried out within sight and/or hearing of a police officer, and you will be advised about any person in custody who is thought to be dangerous. The Police Authority will arrange appropriate insurance cover for custody visitors.
Is there a lot of paperwork?
A book of report forms is kept at each police station and one is completed immediately following every visit. Copies of the report forms are left at the police station and forwarded to the Police Board. Those matters of concern that are reported are fully discussed with senior police officers by members of the Police Board. The only other administrative burden is claiming your expenses - the authority pays for travel to and from police stations and training sessions, either by public transport, or at the private car mileage rates normally paid to members of the authority.
The appointment of custody visitors
Although the work is entirely voluntary, the Police Board will have the right to terminate a custody visitor's appointment if it is felt that the individual's conduct was not of the required standard.
Newly appointed custody visitors will complete a probationary period (normally 6 months) to give them a chance to see if they like the work, and for the Police Board to see if they are suitable for it. Appointments will be renewable after 3 years.
Custody visiting is also a means by which police and members of a local community are informed about an aspect of local policing. Whilst custody visitors must treat as confidential the details of what is seen and heard, they are expected to report, in general terms, to the police authority on an annual basis. This helps to inform the general development of the scheme.
If you have any further queries or wish to discuss any aspect of the scheme, please contact:-
Law and Administration
Corporate Services Department
Orchardbank Business Park
Forfar DD8 1AN
Tel: 01307 476264
Independent Custody Visiting Scheme
Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA)
This is a voluntary organisation that promotes and supports the effective provision of custody visiting nationally, raising public awareness on the rights and entitlements, health and wellbeing of people held in police custody and the conditions and facilities in which they are kept.
A national resource on custody visiting, ICVA advises on best practice for local schemes and provides training, publicity and ongoing support to police authorities, visitors and all those involved in the process.
ICVA works in close association with organisations such as the Home Office, Scottish Executive and the Association of Police Authorities to ensure effectiveness and best use of resources.
Further information is available on the ICVA website.
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