Our Annual General Meeting takes place this week and it’s an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve achieved the year before. Our AGM will look very different this year. Far from a conference room in Westminster, we will be meeting online. Hugs and handshakes will be replaced with the frequently heard ‘it’s so nice to actually see you’ and ‘I think that you are on mute’. Despite the inevitable communication challenges, the idea of catching up with so many of our colleagues is such a treat.
Like our meeting, reflections of the financial year just gone have been changed by COVID19. Schemes across the UK adapted quickly to new ways of working and we have used their feedback to inform national policies and ways of working.
Over the course of the pandemic, schemes have sent in well over 250 separate pieces of feedback to ICVA and we, in turn, pass this on to relevant agencies. The feedback has changed over time, initially focussing on accessing PPE and social distancing in suites, later moving to feedback about video enabled justice and how this impacts detainees. We are proud of the way that schemes have continued to monitor custody and grateful to the scheme managers and volunteers who have adapted their ways of working, as well as those who have continued to visit across this time. Thank you to everyone who has been part of such a flexible team.
Looking back to pre-COVID days, there is more to be proud of. We started the financial year celebrating schemes’ achievements at the House of Lords. We were delighted to present schemes with their certificates for their achievements attaining different levels of the Quality Assurance Framework. Schemes put a great deal of effort into these achievements and it was brilliant to see this reflected within Parliament, with huge thanks to Lord Bach and Lord Anderson for hosting and acknowledging this work.
Six schemes participated in a pilot to try new methodologies for monitoring custody. The Independent Custody Observers Pilot (or ICOP) asks ICVs to look through complete custody records to monitor both the record and detainee treatment. This custody record review is able to return data about the full detainee journey through custody and, our evaluation tells us, reveals issues and challenges that were schemes were not previously able to see. These reviews, coupled with enhanced visits, create a dynamic and enhanced means to monitor custody and help to prevent harm as required by the UK’s international human rights obligations. Independent evaluators have been with us throughout the pilot and we’ll work with the Home Office to respond to their recommendations over the year ahead.
Our annual theme focussed on detainee dignity. Our scheme managers’ conference included a powerful play, based on the five-year good police custody study, led by Dr. Layla Skinns, and our training materials for ICVs explored these themes. ICVA has worked with individual schemes on issues such a privacy using toilets and antirip suits and will continue on this area over the next financial year.
After years of work, we were delighted that changes to PACE Codes C and H came into force, strengthening menstrual care in police custody. Detainees must now be given the opportunity to speak to someone of the same gender about their personal hygiene needs. Female detainees must be proactively offered menstrual care and detainees must be told toilets are private. The changes also strengthened dignity in strip searches. The reforms were a result of the hard work of ICVs, schemes and ICVA and we were delighted see these legal changes come into force.
We also spent much of the year working with the National Preventive Mechanism as the UN Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture visited the UK. ICVA and ICVs took part in the visit, going to custody with UN representatives and working through the emerging findings from the visit. Whilst the response to the visit has been delayed by COVID19, we look forward to using the results of the visit to improve what we do.
There are many other initiatives and changes. We have now implemented distance learning modules for new scheme managers and on holding the police to account, we attended many training days, significantly boosted online engagement, developed guidance and toolkits and individually supported schemes in their work.
None of this work would be possible without our brilliant members and schemes. It will be strange to meet online, but it will be a good thing indeed to come together, reflect on what we have achieved and thank schemes for their work.