JCHR Press Notice No. 21

17 July 2003



The Joint Committee on Human Rights is conducting an inquiry into human rights and deaths in custody.  The inquiry will consider deaths in prisons, police detention, special hospitals, immigration detention, as well as other deaths in the custody of the State.

Government figures indicate that the numbers of deaths in custody are high and are increasing.  The Joint Committee's inquiry responds to this, and has two aspects.

First, the Committee wishes to assess how a human rights approach to the management of prisons and other places of detention can assist in preventing deaths in custody.  Under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as incorporated into UK law in the Human Rights Act, there is a positive obligation on the UK, and on the responsible public authorities, to take steps to protect the right to life (Article 2 ECHR), the right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3 ECHR) and the right to physical integrity (Article 8 ECHR) of those in the custody of the State who are known to be at risk of harm.  The Committee's inquiry is concerned with how these obligations are complied with, through ensuring adequate and appropriate conditions of detention, and appropriate healthcare, and in the management of places of detention and the monitoring of prisoners at risk.

Secondly, the inquiry will examine how deaths in custody are investigated, in light of the requirement of Article 2 ECHR that there should be an effective, independent official investigation, following a death in custody.  In Jordan v UK, the European Court of Human Rights set out the requirements of an investigation.  It specified that an investigation should be: on the initiative of the State; independent, both institutionally and in practice; capable of leading to a determination of responsibility and the punishment of those responsible; prompt; allowing for sufficient public scrutiny to ensure accountability; and allowing the next of kin sufficient opportunity to participate. 


The Committee would welcome evidence on any of the following points:

Preventing deaths in custody

What are the main causes of deaths in custody? Are there any common factors? Are there particular aspects of conditions of detention, or the treatment of detainees, or the cultural background of prisoners or prison officers, that contribute to:

 - suicide and self-harm in custody?

 - other deaths or injuries in custody?

What practical steps have already been taken, and what further steps need to be taken to prevent:

 -suicide and self-harm in custody?

 - other deaths or injuries in custody?

What can a human rights approach to conditions of detention and management of detention facilities contribute to the prevention of deaths in custody? 

What can be done to foster a greater "human rights culture" in prisons and other detention facilities?

Investigation of deaths in custody

Are the Article 2 ECHR requirements of an effective, prompt and independent investigation of deaths in custody, with effective participation by the next-of-kin met by:

 - the coroner's jurisdiction, including the inquest;

 - investigations by the Prison Service;

 - investigations by the new IPCA;

 - criminal prosecutions;

 - civil proceedings; or

 - any other avenues of investigation.

If not, what should be done to satisfy the Article 2 ECHR requirement of an independent, transparent and effective investigation? 

Instructions to Witnesses

Evidence should be submitted to Paul Evans, Commons Clerk of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Committee Office, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SWlP 3JA.  Electronic submission is acceptable to meet the closing date, but a signed hard copy should also be sent-in any event, witnesses are asked wherever possible to accompany hard copy by an electronic version, preferably in Word format. Evidence should if possible arrive by 15 September 2003; evidence submitted later may not be able to be taken into account in the Committee's deliberations.

Shorter submissions (of fewer than 5000 words) would be preferred. Longer submissions should include a one page summary.  Paragraphs should be numbered. If drawings or charts are included, these must be black and white and of camera ready quality.  Evidence should be signed and dated, with a note of the author's name and status, and of whether the evidence is submitted on an individual or corporate basis.  Only one hard copy is required. All submissions will be acknowledged.

Evidence becomes the property of the Committee, and may be printed or circulated by the Committee at any stage.  You may publicise or publish your evidence yourself, but in doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee.  Evidence published other than under the authority of the Committee does not attract parliamentary privilege.

Further information on the Joint Committee is available on its website at the address shown below.