“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement to the House on the publication of Dame Elish Angiolini’s Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, and the Government’s substantive response to the report and its recommendations.
In 2015, the right honourable Theresa May met with the relatives of Olaseni Lewis and Sean Rigg, who had died tragically in police custody. The families’ experiences left her in no doubt that there was significant work to do—not only to prevent deaths in police custody but also, where they occur, to ensure that the families are treated with dignity and compassion and have meaningful involvement and support in their difficult journey to find answers about what happened to their loved ones.
I know that everyone in this House will want to join me in expressing our sympathy and sorrow for all those families who have lost loved ones who have died in police custody.
It is essential that deaths and serious incidents in police custody are reduced as far as possible and, where they occur, that they are investigated thoroughly, agencies are held to account, lessons are learned and bereaved families are provided with the support that they need. I know that the House will want to join me in acknowledging the incredible efforts of our country’s police forces and officers, the vast majority of whom do their jobs well, to give substance to the Peelian principle of policing by consent. However, when things go wrong, policing by consent can have meaning only where swift action is taken to find the truth, to expose institutional failings, and to tackle any conduct issues where these are found.
It is for these reasons that in 2015, the Government commissioned the independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody, and appointed Dame Elish as its independent chair. Earlier this year, Dame Elish concluded her review and today, having carefully considered the review and its recommendations, the Government are publishing both her report and the Government’s response.
The report is considerable in scope and makes 110 recommendations for improvement covering every aspect of procedures and processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents in police custody. It is particularly valuable in affording a central role to the perspective of bereaved families and demonstrating beyond doubt that their experiences offer a rich source of learning for the police, investigatory bodies, coroners and many others with a role to play when these tragic incidents occur.
In terms of the Government’s response, I stress to the House that the issues identified in Dame Elish’s report point to the need for reform in a number of areas where we have begun or set in motion work today. But her report also highlights complex issues for which there are no easy answers at this time. The Government response which I outline today is the start of a journey: a journey which will see a focused programme of work to address the problems identified.
As the House will understand, I do not intend to go into the detail of the Government’s response in respect of all of the report’s recommendations. Instead, I will highlight key areas of concern and our approach.
The first relates to inquests. These are intended to be inquisitorial, to find out the facts of a death, and should not be adversarial. Despite this, Dame Elish finds that inquests currently involve legal representation for interested persons, particularly those connected to the police force, and little or no help for bereaved families. The Government recognise that in some circumstances, legal advice and representation may be necessary in the inquest process. That is why we have protected legal aid for advice in the lead-up to and during inquest hearings.
However, it is also clear that the system needs simplifying, so that legal representation is not necessary in all cases, and the Government will investigate how we can meet this ambition and take this forward in the coming months.
As an initial step towards addressing these concerns and ensuring that the bereaved can have confidence in the arrangements, the Lord Chancellor will review the existing guidance so that it is clear that the starting presumption is that legal aid should be awarded for representation of the bereaved at an inquest following a non-natural death or suicide of a person detained by police or in prison, subject to the overarching discretion of the Director of Legal Aid Casework. It will also be made clear that in exercising the discretion to disregard the means test, consideration should be given to the distress and anxiety caused to families of the bereaved in having to fill out complex forms to establish financial means following the death of a loved one. This work will be completed by the end of the year.
As a next step, the Lord Chancellor will also consider the issue of publicly funded legal advice and representation at inquests, particularly the application of the means test in these cases. This will form part of the upcoming post-implementation review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, to be published next year.
However, while there are cases where legal support is required, we believe that we can go further towards building a non-adversarial inquest system which is better for all involved. The Lord Chancellor will also consider, to the same timescale as the legal aid review, reducing the number of lawyers who attend inquests, without compromising fairness, and making inquests more sympathetic to the needs of the bereaved.
This country is proud to have a world-leading police force. The police put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public with honesty and integrity, upholding the values set out in the policing code of ethics. Police integrity and accountability are central to public confidence in policing, and a system that holds police officers to account helps to guarantee this. The Government must ensure that the public have confidence in the police to serve our communities and keep us safe.
When things go wrong, swift action is needed to expose and tackle any misconduct. Action must be open, fair and robust. The Government will therefore implement legislation later this year to extend the disciplinary system to former officers so that, where serious wrongdoing is alleged, an investigation and subsequent disciplinary proceedings can continue until their conclusion, even when an officer has left the force. We will also make publicly available a statutory police barred list of officers, special constables and staff who have been dismissed from the force and are barred from policing.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has undergone a multiyear major change programme that has seen a fivefold increase in the number of independent investigations that it opens each year, compared to 2013-14. On Friday
The Government are strengthening safeguards in the custody environment. It has been clear that police custody is no place for children. Provisions in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, shortly to be brought into force, will make it unlawful to use a police station as a place of safety for anyone under 18 years of age in any circumstances, and further restrict the use of police stations as a place of safety for people aged 18 and over.
The work of the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council to improve training and guidance for police officers and staff in this area is to be commended. Drawing also on learning from the IPCC’s independent investigations, this has contributed to a significant reduction in the number of deaths in custody in recent years.
In other areas, however, improvements require us to tackle entrenched and long-standing problems that cut across multiple agencies’ responsibilities. The Government will not shy away from the long-term collaborative work that that requires. That is why we have commissioned the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody to play a leading role in considering the most complex of Dame Elish’s recommendations: those relating to healthcare in police custody, inquests and support for families. The ministerial council is uniquely placed to drive progress in these areas and has been reformed to ensure an increased focus on effectively tackling the issues that matter most. It brings together not only Ministers from the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice but leading practitioners from the fields of policing, health, justice and the third sector. In addition, its work is informed by an independent advisory panel that brings together eminent experts in the fields of law, human rights, medicine and mental health. This will introduce necessary oversight and external challenge to ensure that lessons are learnt. In my role as co-chair of the ministerial board, I am personally committed to help to drive through the new work programme for the council and I will do so in a way that is transparent to the families.
Every death in police custody is a tragedy and we must do all that we can to prevent them. The independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody is a major step forward in our efforts to better understand this issue and bring about meaningful and lasting change. I thank Dame Elish Angiolini for her remarkable contribution to this important issue, as well as Deborah Coles for her continuing commitment to preventing deaths in police custody. I particularly thank the bereaved families who contributed to Dame Elish’s review; they have laid their experiences bare in order for us to learn from them and to spare other families the suffering that they have endured, and I cannot commend them highly enough.
In addition to publication on GOV.UK, I will place in the House Library copies of The Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, its accompanying research report, the Government’s response to the review and the Concordat on Children in Custody. I commend this Statement to the House”.
The independent review by Dame Elish Angiolini QC into deaths and serious incidents in police custody was commissioned by the then Home Secretary in July 2015 to alleviate the pain and suffering of families still looking for answers. We thank Dame Elish for her comprehensive report and all those who contributed to it. However, will the Minister say when that report was received by the Home Secretary, as there appears to have been a lengthy delay between the report being received and the independent report being placed in the public arena—a delay which does not seem entirely consistent with the objective of alleviating the pain and suffering of families still looking for answers? What parts of the report, bearing in mind the delay, would have caused the Government a problem if the report had been placed in the public arena much earlier? Remarkably, after all the delay, the Government still do not intend to give their response to the recommendations, including the ones on healthcare in police custody, inquests and support for families. I hope the words “kicking” and “long grass” do not prove to be all too accurate.
The report is critical of the current processes, protocols and procedures for investigating deaths in police custody and of the role and approach of the agencies and organisations involved. It makes a considerable number of recommendations for speeding up the process of investigating deaths in police custody, including following contact with the police, in the light of the lengthy delays that currently occur, in contrast to the urgency, haste and mindset that is normally associated with potential and actual murder investigations. The delay in the current process leads to frustration, anger and suspicion that justice is not being done, and does not exactly enhance confidence and trust in the police, particularly among and within the families and communities most directly affected. The campaigning group Inquest has, I believe, said that more than 1,000 people have died in police custody or following contact with the police since 1990. No police officer apparently has been convicted in a criminal court in connection with any of those deaths.
The report makes a number of recommendations. For example, it states:
“For the state to fulfil its legal obligations of allowing effective participation of families in the process that is meaningful and not ‘empty and rhetorical’ there should be access for the immediate family to free, non-means tested legal advice, assistance and representation immediately following the death and throughout the Inquest hearing”.
I would have to say that, from the Statement, the Government appear to be a little lukewarm on implementing this recommendation in full. The Statement says, for example, that legal aid may be necessary in some circumstances. There is reference later on to “considering” the issue of publicly funded legal advice and representation at inquests.
The recommendations also include the comment that NHS commissioning of healthcare in police custody was due to have commenced in April 2016 but was halted by the Government earlier in the year. This report strongly recommends that this policy is reinstated and implemented. Perhaps the Minister can say why the commissioning of healthcare in police custody was halted by the Government, particularly since the report seems to have commented somewhat adversely on it.
The report also addresses the extent to which police use of restraints against detainees was identified as a cause of death by post-mortem reports in 10% of deaths in police custody between 2004-05 and 2014-15. It also says that a significant proportion of deaths involved people with mental health needs, and the report makes specific recommendations providing for change in how such people are treated, as indeed it does for those who have issues with drugs and/or alcohol. Drugs and/or alcohol featured as causes in around half of deaths, and an even higher proportion of those who died had an association with drugs or alcohol—namely, 82%.
The Statement indicates exactly what actions the Home Secretary now intends to take—and, I would have to say, not take—in the light of the report’s recommendations. By when do the Government expect to see a considerable improvement in the practices, procedures and mindsets identified in the independent review as contributing to and exacerbating the impact of the current delays in investigations into deaths in police custody? Against what criteria will the Government assess the effectiveness or otherwise of the actions that they are announcing today in light of the review? What are the specific goals that the Government expect their actions announced today to deliver? Who will be responsible for ensuring that those goals are delivered? What, if any, additional resources will be made available to implement even the actions announced today in the Statement, let alone if we implemented all the recommendations set out in the report?
In the light of the recommendation in the report, can the Government say any more—since I have questioned them—about the arrangements that will be introduced to make sure that there is proper legal representation for the families of those who have died in police custody at coroners’ court inquest hearings? Surely, the Government can be a bit more specific than they have been, because this report was submitted many months ago. Indeed, that applies to most of the recommendations in the report, bearing in mind that they have said that they do not intend to give a detailed response to all the recommendations today—and, indeed, they have not.
The report states that its recommendations are necessary to minimise as far as possible the risk of deaths and serious incidents in police custody occurring in future and to ensure that, when they do, procedures are in place that are efficient, effective, humane and command public confidence. It is now principally, although I accept not solely, up to the Government to make sure that those objectives are achieved within the shortest possible timescale. So far, the Government will appear to many to have dragged and still be dragging their feet. To allay those fears, will the Government report back to this House within no more than six months on the progress being made on the implementation of the recommendations in this comprehensive and valuable independent report?
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and express our sympathy to all those who have lost loved ones as a result of deaths in police custody. I declare an interest in that, when I was borough commander in Lambeth in south London, there were a number of deaths in custody. It is important to express that to the House, because the impact that it can have on the officers involved is also something that needs to be taken into account—particularly those officers who have acted in good faith and have done nothing wrong.
There are 120 recommendations, and it would be impossible to cover the whole ground, but there are a couple of issues that I want to highlight. The Minister has said, and the report talks about the fact that inquests are intended to be inquisitorial and should not be adversarial. When I represented the family of somebody whose son died as a result of a police action, it was the most adversarial court appearance that I have ever appeared in, bearing in mind that the overall majority of my experience had been in adversarial criminal courts. Surely, in those circumstances, and unless and until that situation is changed, families of those who have lost loved ones at the hands of the police should receive equality of arms in terms of legal representation with the police as recommended in this review—no ifs, no buts and no conditions.
On another issue, 15 or more years ago I was the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on mental health issues in policing. Following a number of deaths in police custody, training was introduced on the safe restraint of those suffering from mental illness. That was 15 years ago. Why does this report say that:
“National policing policy, practice and training must reflect the now widely evident position that the use of force and restraint against anyone in mental health crisis … poses a life threatening risk”?
This has been evident for decades, yet people are still dying in those circumstances at the hands of the police. What are the Government going to do differently this time to make a real difference?
My Lords, I apologise for being a bit slow standing up, which is probably why noble Lords thought they could do so.
I thank the two noble Lords for their questions on this extensive report, which has 110 recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, started with the point that we received the report in January and he asked why it had taken so long to publish our response. There is no mysterious reason for this: we thought we would prioritise thoroughness over speed and we have considered the report carefully. It has been an incredibly busy year in Parliament and it is important that this report should be published when it can receive all the attention it deserves.
The Government commissioned the review to shine a light on the issue of deaths in police custody, and that is precisely what it does. As the noble Lord said, Theresa May—now Prime Minister, then Home Secretary—commissioned it. It is therefore proper that the Government respond to it thoroughly. The noble Lord asked why we have not responded to aspects such as healthcare in police custody, inquests and support for families. We have commissioned the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody to play a leading role in considering these, which are the most complex of Dame Elish’s recommendations. He also asked why we stated that legal aid “may” be needed and wondered whether there was some doubt about it. I will clarify by repeating, from the Statement, that,
“the Lord Chancellor will review the existing guidance so that it is clear that the starting presumption is that legal aid should be awarded for representation of the bereaved at an inquest following the non-natural death or suicide of a person detained by police or in prison, subject to the overarching discretion of the Director of Legal Aid Casework”.
I also said that, in exercising that discretion,
“consideration should be given to the distress and anxiety caused to families of the bereaved in having to fill out complex forms to establish financial means following the death of a loved one. This work will be completed by the end of the year”.
I think that our intention is clear; I would not want noble Lords to think it was not.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked why the Government dropped plans to bring NHS commissioning into police custody. Police and crime commissioners are well placed to commission the most appropriate healthcare and forensic services to meet the needs of their custody populations. The Government are determined that PCCs should retain full flexibility to prioritise their resources according to those needs.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about the 10% of deaths due to restraint. I do not have the exact figures for those deaths and I would not want to put out an inaccurate one today. However, there are procedures, processes and training in place to ensure that restraint is administered appropriately and proportionately, and reporting procedures in place for when restraint is undertaken. The treatment of people with mental health problems has been a particular focus. In fact, I recall that some 15 years ago, I campaigned for places of safety—not in custody but in a mental health setting—for people who found themselves in police custody inappropriately. What we have announced is absolutely the right way to go, in terms of no child and wherever possible no adult with a mental health problem being detained in police custody. We debated this at length during the passage of the then Policing and Crime Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about updating the House on progress in six months. As I said, we have commissioned the ministerial board on deaths in custody to oversee the implementation of the measure, and the board includes external stakeholders who will hold the Government to account on progress.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about the effect that a death in police custody has on police officers. He is well equipped to make that point. We praise the police for what they do because they carry out some very difficult jobs. We sometimes forget the effect on them when somebody dies in police custody. I can well appreciate that an adversarial situation will arise when a policeman has to tell a family that their child has died in police custody.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also talked about coroners’ courts being adversarial and said that families should receive publicly funded legal representation. As I said, we will consider a number of measures to meet the challenge of making inquests less adversarial, including reducing the number of lawyers who attend, with the aim of making inquests more sympathetic to the needs of the people they are there for—the bereaved.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a former president of the Police Superintendents’ Association. Does the Minister agree that the police service is often the agency of last resort, and that many people who find themselves in police custody should not be there and should be dealt with by other agencies? That is not the fault of the police, of course, and is often a matter of funding and resources in many other areas. Does she also agree that one of the difficulties is being open and honest with the public? Historically, the police service, like many organisations, has closed ranks. The police service needs to be far more open and honest with the public. I think it is moving this way and I hope that issue is addressed in the report. I like to see senior officers prepared to go on television and make statements. Obviously, they should not disclose everything as we do not want that to affect the judicial system or judicial process. However, it is gratifying to members of the public, particularly grieving families, if the police appear to be open, honest and transparent without, as I say, compromising an investigation. There is a lot to welcome in the report. As has been suggested, I hope that the Government implement its provisions as soon as possible.
I thank the noble Lord for his points about openness and honesty with the public. Quite often, the heartache of bereaved families is made worse by a feeling that perhaps people have not been open and honest with them. A theme runs through the Government’s response—and, indeed, through Dame Elish’s report itself—which talks about transparency in the whole process. Therefore I totally agree, as do the Government, with the noble Lord’s point.
The noble Lord also talked about police services as the agency of last resort. If I learned anything in local government, it was about the multiagency approach of services working together. Whether in the custody arena or in child protection, when agencies work together and place people appropriately, that starts to end this system of people literally being dumped in the first place that people think of. That particularly applies to people with mental health problems, which is why I was so keen all those years ago to see places of safety established, and I am very pleased now to see that wherever possible, no child or adult with a mental health problem will be placed in police custody.
First, this is a welcome report. Secondly, however, I wonder whether the Minister will agree with me that the weakest part of its recommendations is about the largest number of deaths, which is the rising number of deaths after people are released from police custody. The numbers are between 60 and 70 a year for the last three years of people committing suicide at the end of police custody. A lot of this will of course be based on more people being arrested for offences involving child indecency. The report notes rather drily that this is a “holistic” issue and not just a matter for the police. That is absolutely right, but there are no proper recommendations about what will be done about that level of deaths, which far exceeds any of the other statistics in the report.
The noble Lord makes a fair point about people who die post-police custody, which can occur because of a number of different factors. If there is a death after custody, that will still be looked into. I will have to write to him about the specifics.
My Lords, as one who used to participate in many inquests, I urge on my noble friend the importance of ensuring publicly funded representation at inquests. It is an important way of holding the police to account and scrutinising their actions, thus giving acceptability to the decision of the coroner. I suggest that the coroner should be the determinative voice in deciding whether public funding should be available. It would be good if this process extended not just to deaths in custody but to deaths as a result of police action.
I recall my noble friend making this point during the passage of what is now the Policing and Crime Act. Certainly, the issue of how inquests are funded will be kept under consideration, so I thank him for raising it again today.
My Lords, I very much welcome the report; I have simply read the executive summary. It is obviously important to respond well after death occurs, but equally, arguably, it is even more important to put in place measures to reduce the possibility of death. This is where the healthcare provision in the police service is especially important. Given that the NHS has a direct responsibility to provide healthcare in prisons but does not have an equivalent responsibility for those in police care, and given that for half the people the cause of death is alcohol and drug-related, is there not a need to join up A&E, the police, the whole NHS and police support? It is no doubt complex, but at the heart of this lies quite a simple issue. This ought to be brought within the ambit of the NHS, which is the case with prisons.
The right reverend Prelate is correct that while it is complex, it is incredibly simple. We have dealt with this sort of multiagency approach in other public service areas in the past. He is also right to talk about the approach to drugs and alcohol and the possibility that misuse can lead to death in custody. Of course, a range of various treatments is already available in prisons, but the Government will certainly consider this in due course.
My Lords, as a former chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, and as someone who gave evidence to Dame Elish, I very much welcome her report. However, I am somewhat disappointed that after 11 months of consideration, the Government’s response—although quite voluminous—is quite so thin. Two of its proposals are to set up another two working groups. What is the point of setting up an independent review, considering that for 11 months without saying a word, and then setting up two further working parties to look at several aspects? The real issue is that many of these lessons have been spelled out time and time again in the inquests that have taken place into people who have unfortunately died in police custody. What is the process the Government see going forward to ensure that lessons arise from an individual death are taken on board, not just in the police force area where the death occurs but more generally?
Secondly, on the question of the inquests, I remember vividly talking to the families of those whose loved ones died in the custody of the state. They described how every single person who was in any way engaged in that death—every police officer, the police force concerned, any health workers, and so on—would all be independently represented at the cost of the state. However, the individuals concerned—the families, who might have to agree among themselves as to which members would be there, because of shortage of funds—were not automatically represented. Is it not time that the Government, rather than talking about legal aid, which will presumably diminish the pot for everyone else, are quite clear that these individuals and families should be represented at public expense?
The Government’s response is very much empathetic to the fact that the families of people who died in custody generally feel that they have come off worse through the inquest and representation processes and the financial ability to pay. At the moment, 50% of people are entitled to legal aid, while the other 50% might feel that they are short-changed when it comes to this sort of process. More than that, however, they are also bereaved and probably in an environment that they have never been in before. The Government are alive to that, which is why they commissioned this report back in 2015. The working groups will see that the work goes forward, and it is right to do that. On the wider learning, Bishop James’s report will come out on Wednesday, which I am sure will give insight not only into Hillsborough but into the wider lessons to be learned. Every time we carry out these reviews we attempt to learn the lessons of the past and we hope that they do not happen again.
My Lords, the report refers to the disproportionately high numbers of black men in restraint-related deaths, often in contentious circumstances. That is a serious issue because it connects so vividly with the perception many in the BAME community have of the police service. As the report recommends:
“Statistics should be published breaking down restraint related deaths by ethnicity”.
Can my noble friend please outline whether that recommendation will be accepted and, if it is, will it be recorded along with the race disparity audit statistics so that there is one central point with all those ethnicity statistics together?
My noble friend mentioned that third sector groups would be involved in the ministerial council on this issue. Is a means proposed for the ministerial council to engage with the many groups that have existed in relation to deaths in custody, particularly within the black and minority ethnic community, because of the resonance that they have, as the report outlines?
My Lords, from
My Lords, paragraph 45 of the executive summary says that a key theme to emerge from this review is the failure to learn lessons and to properly consider and implement recommendations from previous reports and studies. In the light of that, there is a recommendation for an independent office of compliance which should be answerable to Parliament and tasked with the dissemination of learning, the implementation of that learning, monitoring the consistency and application at a national level, and compliance with inquest outcomes and recommendations. Are the Government minded to set up that independent body which is accountable to Parliament so that lessons are learned and implemented?
My Lords, I do not know whether this will entirely answer the noble Lord’s question. I suspect that it may not, in which case I shall write to him afterwards. The independent office for police conduct and the existing commission structure will be replaced with a new single head—the director-general—with ultimate responsibility for all investigative decisions. This position is barred to anyone with a policing background—hence the independence. The director-general will have statutory powers to determine which posts in the IOPC are barred to former police. From the noble Lord’s gesture, I think that I shall write to him.
My Lords, three things leapt out at me from the report—things which are lessons learned in the past but which are apparently still unlearned. The first is the disproportionate racial element to the deaths—the fact that young black men seem extremely vulnerable to police interventions. The second is the idea of having cameras in police vans. I have completely forgotten the third, but in relation to the first two, surely these things have been learned before. Why is there still a problem? Why is it still happening and, to repeat the question from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, what are this Government going to do differently?
I am glad that the noble Baroness forgets parts of questions because I forget parts of answers. In terms of whether black and minority ethnic people are more likely to die in police custody, the report commissioned by Dame Elish found that deaths in custody are representative of the detainee population and that the proportion of black people who die in police custody is lower than the proportion arrested for notifiable offences. In addition, in 2011 the IPCC published the results of a 10-year study that it had carried out into deaths in custody from 1998-98 to 2008-09. It found that 22 deaths—that is, 7% of deaths—were of black individuals. The report noted that the ethnicity of the deceased in police custody was broadly in line with the ethnic demographic of detainees. On the question of cameras in police vans, I shall have to come back to the noble Baroness.
Does my noble friend accept that it is damaging to the police if the public or those who have lost a relative feel that they have been unfairly treated? This is a question not just of those people but of the reputation of the police. Will she therefore reconsider all the caveats that she has put around support for the families? As the noble Lord opposite said, this support should not come out of the legal aid budget but should be on all fours with the support provided to all the other people who are represented. Unless that happens, frankly the public will not believe that they are getting fair dos. I am afraid that it will be expensive but I do not see how we will otherwise be able to protect the police force from the attitudes that are becoming increasingly prevalent.
My Lords, I most definitely agree with my noble friend that it is damaging to the police if people feel that they have been short-changed or indeed prejudiced against in the investigation of the death of one of their loved ones. I did not express caveats; I said that there would be—
There might be “ifs” and “buts” but we are a cautious lot in the Home Office. It is not a no or a caveat; we will be considering it in the round as we proceed.
My Lords, will the Minister please confirm that, when there are incidents involving public services, people are expected to be open and honest? Often, throughout this system people are told by insurers, “You may not say anything now”. Will the Government look carefully at where the insurance industry, by stopping people making open and honest comments, inhibits that openness and honesty?
I say to my noble friend that there is not another “if”. It is important that the police protect the public with honesty and integrity and that they uphold the values set out in the policing Code of Ethics. Police integrity and accountability are central to public confidence in policing. A system that holds police officers to account helps to guarantee that, so the Government must ensure that the public have confidence in the police to serve our communities and keep us safe. I think that on that we all agree.
Dame Elish’s report is very good and I understand that it will take time to consider it. I am extremely worried by the answers that the Minister has given about inquest representation. I am afraid that the noble Lord who mentioned “ifs” and “buts” was putting it kindly. I have two questions. Please can the Minister confirm that there is an immediate change in approach by the Legal Aid Board to giving legal aid for representation for the relatives and families of those who have died in custody? It is unclear from the answer that has been given whether there is a change in practice. The Minister said that the starting point is that you will get legal aid but that it is subject to an overriding discretion. Please can she confirm that there is a change of practice and that the presumption is that you get legal aid unless there are exceptional circumstances? Secondly and separately, please can she provide details to the House of the legal aid review and of how representation at inquests is to be considered? When will the review report and will the timing of those recommendations be different from the timing in relation to the rest of Dame Elish’s recommendations?
My Lords, I suspect that I have sounded a bit cautious this afternoon but I can guarantee that the starting presumption is that legal aid should be awarded for representation of the bereaved at an inquest. There is a presumption to grant legal aid. It is a total change of approach, as I think the noble and learned Lord will agree, and I should have thought that the House would be happier about it. It is a total change of approach.