Police detainees being transported to and from the courthouse in George Town for hearings are being put at unnecessary risk, according to a review of the Cayman Islands prisons system released on Tuesday by the United Kingdom government.
“Detainees were potentially subject to abuse and assault because they had to pass through public areas on arrival at the custody suite and, in some cases, while making their way to court,” the UK prisons inspectorate report noted.
The courthouse holding cells, as well as the prisoner transportation process was examined as part of the review. While the court facilities fared significantly better than their counterparts in the prisons and police jails, there were several problems identified, particularly in prisoner transfers.
“There was no area around the court to facilitate embarkation and disembarkation in private,” the UK report stated. “Detainees had to disembark from vehicles in a public park next to the court, usually in handcuffs and sometimes in shackles.
“This exposed them to the potential for abuse and assault, in order to access two of the courts in the main building, and those in a nearby courthouse, detainees were required to pass through public areas.”
Custody suites at the court facilities were clean and serviceable, reviewers found and detainees were quickly and efficiently returned to police custody after their cases were heard in court. However, it was not always clear to British inspectors who had the responsibility for transporting newly convicted detainees to prison.
The prison service believed that the police should transport all such individuals, regardless of whether they arrived at court under arrest. The police said the prison service should do it once a conviction had occurred.
“In reality, there was nowhere to hand over the care of convicted detainees safely within the court custody area, but the issue clearly caused animosity between the parties involved,” the UK report found.
Court services, prisons and police all play some role in control of prisoners at court, but reviewers noted “there were no formal meetings between all the parties involved”. There was also no written protocol for the separate agencies to define their roles in how to handle prisoner transport to and from the court, even though there were defined operating procedures for prisoner transport generally.
Another matter of concern to UK inspectors regarding court custody matters was the inability in many cases for attorneys to confer privately with their clients.
“Facilities for consulting legal representatives were poor,” the UK inspection report read. “We saw detainees talking to legal counsel in preparation for their court appearance through the bars of their detention rooms in the presence of staff and other detainees.
“Legal counsel we spoke to told us that dedicated private interview rooms were not available and that they had to make use of the counsel’s robing room, which was liable to interruption.”
The process for filing complaints regarding court transportation or holding facilities was not defined and largely handled by the police, if at all, inspectors found.