On 21 August 2018, the Home Office launched a consultation in respect of further revisions to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Codes of Practice.

While the consultation period is no surprise (it is a statutory requirement), it is breath-taking that such basic standards of decency need to be introduced to the minimum standards of treatment for detained individuals.

The wordings of the amendments illustrate how appalling it is that these standards were not already in place:

  • Code C 3.20A & 9.3A: For a detained girl under-18, there is now a requirement to provide an opportunity to speak in private to the woman in whose care the girl is in, about personal needs.
  • Code C 8.4: There is now a requirement for toilet and washing facilities to take account of the dignity of the detainee.
  • Code C 8.5: There is now a requirement to have proper regard to the dignity, sensitivity and vulnerability of detainees when their clothing needs to be removed.
  • Code C Annex 11(d): There are now requirements to have regard to, and to maintain the detainee’s dignity when a strip search is carried out.

The proposed changes follow a damning open letter in January from the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) to the Home Office. The ICVA’s letter noted that:

Women are frequently left without the assistance of female officers, without access to adequate and hygienic sanitary protection, or facilities for washing and changing; and inadequate consideration is given to menstruation by officers in the exercise of detainees’ risk management. At its most stark, this can mean women left in paper suits without their underwear and without sanitary protection.

As noted in the ICVA’s letter, this was not the first time this issue had been raised. It is a topic which has previously been considered by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Fire and Rescue Services.

Custody suits regularly deal with individuals who are vulnerable through age, circumstance or medical condition and the vast majority of custody sergeants use their best endeavours to ensure the safe dignified treatment of those who have been detained. However, previous reports into the treatment of women in custody have been shocking.

It should not have required public condemnation for these amendments to be introduced. They are long overdue but welcome. There can now be no excuse for failing to maintain the dignity of those held in custody.