The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) and the Coroners’ Society (CS) have published a revised version of their Joint Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

The purpose of the MoU is to promote effective working relationships between the two organisations in relation to investigations into the death of prisoners in custody.

It recognises that the remit of the two organisations is different and helpfully summarises the PPO’s terms of reference for its investigations as follows:

  • To establish the circumstances surrounding the death
  • To consider whether any changes in operational matters would help prevent a recurrence
  • To examine the relevant health matters
  • To provide explanations for relatives
  • To assist the coroner’s inquest to fulfil article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights by ensuring the full facts are brought to light  

The PPO investigation must include:

  • An examination of the records
  • A visit to the establishment where the death occurred
  • Meetings with relevant staff and other prisoners (which will usually be recorded)
  • A clinical review  

Investigators are expected to maintain contact with the police and the coroner, although it is stressed that the investigation is not carried out on the coroner’s behalf who must conduct his own investigation. The MoU also requires the coroner to provide the PPO investigator with the post mortem report and in turn the PPO will disclose redacted documentation to the coroner unless there are any specific reasons it should not be disclosed, for example, if it is felt that disclosure could jeopardise the security of the establishment where the death occurred. The coroner must not disclose the information to other interested parties without consent from the PPO.

The MoU also recognises that the PPO investigator may be called to give evidence at the inquest by the coroner and that he may be asked questions about issues that might not be central to the inquest but are nonetheless of concern. For example where ,recommendations have been made in earlier cases but not acted upon and which could have made a difference to the case in question. It also recognises that the PPO investigator might also be asked to give evidence about national legislation and guidelines concerning the prison service.