Inspectors find quality of court custody facilities in some NI courthouses ‘not fit for purpose'

Inspectors find quality of court custody facilities in some NI courthouses ‘not fit for purpose'

A new report looking at the detention of persons in the custody of the court in Northern Ireland has found the quality of court custody areas in some courthouses are not fit for purpose.

CJI found nine court buildings have cells which failed to meet expectations.

They are Ballymena, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Limavady, Lisburn, Londonderry, Magherafelt, Newtownards and Omagh.

The CJI report went on to state that inspectors considered cells at three locations to be potentially unsafe - Magherafelt, Lisburn and Limavady.

Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin said that while some courthouses provide suitable layouts, with sufficient cells of a reasonable size and were in a good state of repair, others suffered a range of problems including a lack of natural light, ventilation or running water, cramped conditions and staff facilities.

“Inspectors acknowledge the significant investment made by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) in funding modernisation programmes, but some of the courthouses in use today are centuries old and were built in an era when the standards of accommodation for holding people accused of criminal offences were very different,” said Ms Durkin.

“We have recommended that an assessment of current court custody facilities and areas for escorting detainees is undertaken against the Expectations and indicators used by Inspectors to carry out this Inspection to ensure the current court custody estate is fit for purpose.”

Ms Durkin said the report found staff from the Prisoner Escorting and Court Custody Service (PECCS), part of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, who were responsible for both transporting prisoners and young people to and from prison or the Juvenile Justice Centre and their treatment and care while in court custody, treated detainees respectfully and with dignity.

Inspectors also identified good working relationships between PECCS staff, Police Officers, NICTS staff and the judiciary.

The Chief Inspector said work was required to address current challenges around the recruitment and retention of PECCS staff and a need for more role-specific training and ongoing professional development to support them.  

Inspectors have also recommended that steps be taken to address the current lack of IT access in court custody areas to increase the collection and analysis of management information that would improve outcomes for detainees and enhance service delivery.

“The report makes four strategic and nine operational recommendations for improvement to deliver better services and outcomes in the future,” she said.

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