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History of Independent Custody Visiting

Learn about some of the history behind Independent Custody Visiting and why it is so important.

Civil Disorders in 1981

During the first half of 1981 several outbreaks of unrest occurred in major cities throughout the country – in Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, the West Midlands and London. The most significant of these disorders took place in Brixton between 10 and 12 of April when hundreds of young people attacked property and the police.

The cause of these disorders centred around people protesting about oppressive policing and in particular the alleged harassment of people, especially young black people, by the police – in short these incidents were anti-police and voiced a lack of trust in the law and order authorities.

After days of unrest, these serious incidents led to the government ordering an urgent inquiry and appointing Lord Scarman to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the events. 

The Scarman Report

The resulting investigation – the Scarman Report – included several recommendations about reforming the law, community relations and policing practices to help tackle the central problems which caused the civil disorders. 

As part of these recommendations, Lord Scarman advocated a system for members of the public from local communities to inspect the way the police detained people in their custody.

Originally referred to as lay visiting, independent custody visiting is the system that has been developed to meet this recommendation. 

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

At the time, the majority of the Scarman Report recommendations, found favour with the opinion makers and were included in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which was made law  in the mid 1980’s, revised in 2008 and then again in 2013. This Act of Parliament set out the way in which the police officers must carry out their roles and stated specific codes of practice for police procedures. It also established the rights of people who are detained by the police for a suspected crime or offence.

Most commonly, Code C of the PACE Act deals with detention, treatment and questioning of persons by police officers and contains detailed procedures for the police to follow.

These guidelines and codes of practice also provide a way of measuring actions taken by the police and a means of checking that people being detained are treated properly. PACE is a major reference for independent custody visitors as they carry out inspections of police custody suites.

European Human Rights Legislation

In the year 2000 European Human Rights legislation was adopted within the United Kingdom and there are significant implications for all involved in the custody visiting process. In particular, the legislation requires that:

Detainees are treated according to UK legislation and that their basic human rights are being respected.

Independent custody visitors are aware of appropriate Human Rights Articles and that they perform their duties in accordance with them.

Recruitment and selection policies relating to ICVs should have regard to the European Human Rights.

The Police Reform Act 2002

Section 51 of the Police Reform Act made custody visiting a statutory obligation for police authorities in England and Wales. Codes of practice have also been introduced to provide further clarification about the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the custody visiting process. 

Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 2002

OPCAT for short!  This international protocol establishes a system of regular independent visits to places where people are deprived of their liberty. It will complement existing national preventative mechanisms such as independent custody visiting.  


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