8. Court Custody Inspections
The escort provider changed during the reporting period from G4S to GeoAmey.
Effective teams: Throughout this reporting period, inspectors observed well-run facilities with staff that were clearly motivated and working well as a team. It was evident that individual team members supported each other and were operating with a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve.
Prisoner/staff: Staff were observed to discharge their duties courteously and in a respectful manner, whilst maintaining an acceptable level of authority.
Partner agencies: Staff reported and were observed to have good relationships with partner agencies. This reflected positively on the attitude and approach of the G4S and GEOAmey staff and that of the SCTS staff, Police Scotland and the other partner agencies. In Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court, inspectors witnessed a good example of a collaborative, respectful, and professional working relationship between G4S and Police Scotland.
Equality and diversity: To allow people to access their rights they need to know and understand their rights, and if English is not their first language, or they have limited communication skills, it becomes challenging. Clear joint protocols are required to ensure that prisoners arriving at court fully understand why they are there and the outcome of their court appearance. All parties concerned must develop a joint approach to ensure that procedures are in place for this to happen, and that the process is fully understood by all those involved. In order to achieve this, staff at the court must also have ready access to, and the authority to access, the appropriate services, such as translation services.
Prisoner movement: In some of the Sheriff Courts visited, prisoners were often required to walk through public areas to either reach the courtroom or use the toilet facilities. Although this was appropriately well planned and managed by the staff team, it was not conducive to ensuring the separation of prisoners from members of the public, and as such may impact upon the security and safety of CCU staff, prisoners, and members of the public.
Fabric of the buildings: The fabric of the court custody areas did little to encourage interaction between staff and prisoners and would benefit from some upgrading, redecoration and modernisation.
Inspectors often observed significant and clearly historic graffiti on the doors, walls and ceilings of the holding cells, which should be removed promptly. The areas were generally clean but would benefit from being upgraded.
On reviewing access and egress to the court custody units and access to the toilet facilities for those with limited mobility, they were not always fit-for-purpose. Issues included stairs leading up to the entrance of the building with no ramp, and cells that could only be accessed via a staircase. Often those in wheelchairs were required to enter and exit through the public areas posing an unnecessary risk, and in some cases the only disabled toilet was located in the court reception area. This gave cause for concern and steps should be taken to review this.
Strategic Challenges for The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service
Use of Technology
Some of the difficulties experienced in CCUs, such as overcrowding, access for those with limited mobility and movement tensions, could be addressed through greater use of video-link courts.
During the reporting period inspectors became increasingly aware that a significant number of individuals spent long periods of time secured in the CCU. The lengthy periods were, in large part, a product of the requirements of the escorting contract. HMIPS questions why it is a requirement to have all prisoners arrive at the CCUs by 09:30, when it is known that many individuals will not be required in court until the afternoon. This approach means that CCUs are busier, more disruptive, and potentially posed a higher risk than was necessary. The terms of the contract should be reviewed to ensure they meet the needs of the courts, the SPS, Police Scotland, and the prisoners in a more equitable manner. To illustrate an example of this; an individual in custody could be placed in an escort vehicle at 07:30, then spend until 15:00 or later in a holding cell, and potentially not return to prison until 20:00 for what may have been a ten minute court appearance.
HMIPS would like to see better utilisation of video-link facilities, and a smarter approach to prisoner transportation. Greater use of video-link would provide financial savings, reduce the transport and prisoner risk, the numbers of prisoners attending for short procedural court appearances, and the inconvenience suffered by the prisoner from long hours of travel or detention for a very brief court appearance.