Delayed report on deaths in police custody must be published
In July 2015, Theresa May as Home Secretary announced an independent review on deaths in police custody. Unfortunately, over two years later, the report has still not been published, despite it having been due in the summer of 2016.
Recent news reports have revealed that this unpublished report includes many recommendations and findings that, if properly addressed, could vastly improve the experience of families seeking justice, or prevent these deaths in the first place. For example, the report includes the following topics, which sadly come up all too often in cases involving deaths in police custody:
- Families of those who have died in police custody should receive free, non means tested legal advice from the start of the process up to the end of the inquest hearing. The application process for legal aid for the inquest hearing is onerous and invasive. Depending on a person's financial circumstances, a family member might be asked for a contribution before they can have legal aid funding, or this might not be available at all. This is particularly unjust as multiple police and state organisations in the same inquest will often have their own legal teams, and as the family member seeking legal advice is an innocent victim.
- There is evidence of racial disproportionality in police restraint deaths. This must be recognised, so that it can be properly addressed and prevented in the future.
- A ban on those detained under mental health powers being held in police cells or transported in police vehicles, apart from in exceptional cases.
- The report condemns victim blaming via leaks to the media after a death, and notes that this is seen as deflecting blame from the police force and its officers. It is of course devastating for grieving family members to see negative and misleading news reports about their loved one.
It is vital that these issues are addressed, and that the changes that are so desperately needed are implemented. Family members are being failed by the system as things stand. The report must now be published, so that progress can be made, and victims of police misconduct and their families protected and supported.