Guest Blog: Jean Munton, Independent Custody Visitor
I have been an Independent Custody Visitor now for five years.
When I retired, I wanted to do voluntary work as I had had very little time to do any on a regular basis when working. I had had a career as a lawyer in the criminal justice system so was not particularly looking at that area when I saw the advert. I had been a Deputy Clerk to the Justices, acting as an independent legal advisor to magistrates, as well as managing the courts and workload in the area I worked.
In the latter part of my career, I was a Senior Crown Prosecutor and saw the courts system from a different perspective. I have seen the joy on the faces of families when an adoption was finalised and the fear on the faces of domestic abuse victims in the waiting room, wanting to run rather than give evidence, and heard their thanks when they have been helped through the process. I have had to review a wide range of cases from child abuse to murder.
Victims want justice where they have been wronged but society must ensure that the right person is brought to justice and that the system followed is open and fair to both sides. It is vital, therefore, that the trial process is fair and that victims see justice but equally that the accused and their family can accept the verdict too.
This begins at the very beginning when a person is arrested and detained at the police station. There are many things that must be considered and questions that must be asked: how the detained person is physically treated, do they need medical treatment, do they have mental health issues, access to a lawyer, disclosure of information, are they under 18 years and have access to an appropriate adult to help them, what language do they speak, do they have access to an interpreter?
What happens in the police station in those first vital hours after arrest and how these issues are dealt with can have an influence when a judge comes to a conclusion that the prosecution of an individual is fair. If, because of what happens in a police station, a prosecution is stopped, then justice could be denied to victims.
The role of the Independent Custody Visitor is vital therefore in ensuring that the overall trial process is fair. Visitors go to police stations and speak directly to detained persons and check to ensure that their rights are being observed. We can check their custody record where there may be a problem and speak to the custody sergeant where necessary. Both the Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner, who appoints the custody visitors, get a copy of the visitors report from each visit. Visitors meet quarterly with the police to review the last quarter and deal with any issues that may have arisen. The custody visitor plays an important independent role in ensuring that our country has a fair and open criminal justice system which all citizens can support and have confidence in.
I am proud of our criminal justice system and the way it has evolved since I was at college and starting off in my career. It has become more complicated but the improvements, for both victims and accused, have meant that a good system has become better and it will continue to do so. As a custody visitor I can continue to contribute to that continued improvement. The custody visitors I work with have very different work experiences to myself which all contribute to how our team has evolved over recent years. Supported by a dedicated team at the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office, Independent Custody Visitors continue to make an important and effective contribution to the criminal justice system ensuring it continues to be open and fair.
Find out more about the Independent Custody Visitor scheme.