Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 405)



  Q400  Lord Judd: I think the Chairman has indicated that it would be helpful if you wrote and what I have heard is that, while you are very wary, as I put it, of simplistic judgments, you have a good deal of anxiety in this area. Can I therefore put one last question. As you wind up your interesting period of service as an organisation and hand over, would you feel like giving the following advice to your successors, that if police performance is to improve, it is absolutely essential that, systematically and consistently, sanctions are taken where there is police culpability?

  Mr Bynoe: Yes. One is bound to say that. The current system means that supervised investigations have to come to the Authority to be signed off and, believe me, since I have made these decisions in the contentious cases over the last three years, if there is clear culpability, then discipline will follow. At the same time, one has to realise that encouraging a learning culture sometimes means that it is has to be clear culpability, it has to be gross error, it has to be crass mistakes to warrant the damage to career which discipline can sometimes lead to.

  Q401  Mr Stinchcombe: Am I right in thinking that there are also relatively few civil judgments against the police because of a high level of cases which are settled out of court with the offer of a payment of compensation but with no concession as to liability? I do not know if that is accurate or inaccurate.

  Mr Bynoe: I am sure that it is the case because it is the case in relation to nearly all civil cases that that is how they are resolved. For all the writs or claims that are started, most are settled in some way rather than going to trial, yes.

  Q402  Mr Stinchcombe: Secondly, you gave quite a lot of detail about the difficulty that can be faced, which is something you said, if they are investigated if police officers failed to answer the questions during that investigation and failed to explain then how death occurred. The Home Office has recently tackled an analogous problem where a child dies in the custody of two parents and the parents either refuse to explain or alternatively blame each other and it has responded by creating a completely different offence. Is that something that the Home Office ought to be looking at where a death occurs in custody?

  Mr Bynoe: I think we would have to have time to think about that and to come back to you upon it. It is perfectly possible to consider the obligation of a police officer to answer questions and whether or not, slightly off the point you are asking, in and of itself, the failure to cooperate in an investigation is a discipline offence.

  Q403  Mr Stinchcombe: Or failure to explain how death occurred.

  Mr Bynoe: Or to explain how death occurred, yes.

  Q404  Baroness Prashar: Can I seek your view as opposed to evidence-based response to this question: do you think that police forces can learn from the experience of the Prison Service about psychiatric detention?

  Mr Bynoe: I think this is very difficult for us to answer. You may know from our written submission that we arranged a conference on restraint issues which involved the Prison Service and the secure part of the psychiatric service and that is simply because we felt that the inter-agency insights were ones which were relevant across the piece and they continued to be, but my knowledge, though I knew a lot about secure psychiatry until 1994, of that current system is very limited and I would have thought that, if mine is, then the police's is even less so. So, in answer to I think a question I anticipate you might ask, whether a Standing Committee across the piece is a useful idea to pursue, probably it is, yes. I think that we need to ask ourselves where the pressure needs to be applied and what is significant is that there is not really an inspectorate in relation to custody that is able to apply sufficiently the sorts of disciplines, managerial and otherwise, which may be relevant here. The Inspectorate of Constabulary is simply worked off its feet to be able to provide the necessary oversight. You see, I am partly sceptical about a Standing Commission if it is a centralised Westminster-type body that reacts rather than gets out there and checks on whether the good intentions of these sorts of documents, the PACE Code, are actually working in practice. The custody visitors scheme are admittedly largely volunteers but they are out there doing that. They go into custody areas up and down the land day in and day out, they will be out there now, but they are not an inspectorate and they are of course—and I do not want to sound derogatory of it—an organisation with limited powers and limited influence, but that really is what is needed, but I think that a Standing Commission could keep these issues well to the forefront of people in public policy particularly in the respective departments of state.

  Q405  Baroness Prashar: Could a similar role by played by the proposed new Commission for Equality and Human Rights?

  Mr Bynoe: Yes. In a general sense, one has to say "yes", but the danger will be that, in that organisation, this will be a small part of its many, many areas of interest and responsibilities and the advantage of a Custodial Deaths Commission is that they are only doing that and they concentrate on it and they give a prominence to it which the generalist body does not have. I can give you an example. The Inspectorate could do a thematic study on the subject of custody and the adequacy of the current arrangements in forces for meeting human rights and other standards but I have a feeling that, if I were to suggest that, it would be so far down the list of pressing and other concerns that we would not get to it and that is always the danger with multi-role bodies.

  Chairman: Mr Bynoe and Dr Best, thank you both very much for appearing before us today and we look forward to hearing from you on the points about which you have agreed to send us further written evidence. Thank you.

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