Justice system fails families of those who die in custody

Date: 
Tuesday, 21 April, 2015

The Home Secretary Theresa May has written a letter two families of people who died in police custody to say she wants to remove the barriers that prevent them getting answers, reports The Guardian.

In the letter to relatives of Sean Rigg and Olaseni Lewis, Mrs May acknowledges the concerns over the work of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and its perceived lack of independence.

She said Home Office officials would be monitoring new reforms to the IPCC set out following a review into the watchdog's work in investigating deaths in police custody. These reforms include a new model for family liaison, measures to improve communications with the wider public, and attempts to increase the diversity of staff.

The Home Secretary also said that she and her officials are looking at making it possible for the IPCC to reopen concluded cases, something which hasn't been possible in the past without the original case first being quashed in court.

The letter raised the prospect of providing more legal aid for families' legal representation at inquests, but with the caveat that it depends on discussions with the Ministry of Justice. 

A range of reforms and reviews on the use of restraint in police custody are mentioned at the end of the letter. These include:

  • Discussions with the College of Policing on use of restraint.
  • Plans to develop a data series on the use of restraint including both equipment and the non use of weapons.
  • Research across all state detention centres to look into transparency, accountability and training in use of restraint.
  • A review by HMIC into the use of taser and restraint.
  • Greater transparency into age, ethnicity and outcomes of taser incidents.

Last month, following the conclusion of the IPCC's investigation into the shooting of Mark Duggan which exonerated officers of any blame, Stafford Scott wrote in the Guardian that the watchdog is not fit-for-purpose and should be abolished. 

A joint report by Amnesty International and Omega Research Foundation released earlier this month looks into the human rights implications of the use of less lethal weapons like tasers. 

We are holding an event on Tuesday, 5 May where we will be discussing the implications of the growing use of tasers in the UK in the wake of a Police Federation vote in favour of issuing all frontline officers with the devices.