Commission Chair joins Independent Review into Handling of Deaths in Prison Custody

Statement from Judith Robertson, Chair of the Commission:

In November last year, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousef announced that he had asked HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland (HMCIPS), Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, in accordance with section 7(2)(d) of the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989, to undertake a review into the handling of deaths in prison custody.

The review was instructed to enable the identification of and to make recommendations for areas for improvement to ensure appropriate and transparent arrangements are in place in the immediate aftermath of deaths in custody within Scottish prisons, including deaths of prisoners whilst in NHS care.

It was also announced in November last year that Professor Nancy Loucks OBE, Chief Executive of Families Outside would provide external expertise to inform the views of support for families and would join HMCIPS in co-chairing the review. 

Co-chair the review

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice further announced last week that I would also co-chair the review,  to ensure that an independent human rights-based perspective is firmly built into the review.  The Commission will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the relevant human rights legal standards, at both the European and international levels and work across the other work streams that are part of the review.

The co-chairs met last week to take forward progress on a revised Terms of Reference (ToR) which embed human rights principles and analysis into the review.  

Some preliminary work for the review commenced in February and to date the following has been progressed:

  • The literature review is in the final stages of being commissioned.
  • The policy review of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and NHS policies and procedures is underway and despite the significant pressure the SPS and NHS are under, the response for information have been received and are being mapped and analysed by a small short life working group.

The review is fully aware of the unprecedented operational challenges facing our prison, court and health services at present.  Due to these unforeseen circumstances and the considerable impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown on the ability to consult, on present plans we expect to publish the review report in early 2021.

The review will require substantive consultation and analysis of the records of health partners, the SPS and COPFS and understandably, we do not want to put additional pressures on these organisations during this time.

There has also rightly been a need to suspend action to engage families. Professor Loucks has been leading efforts to engage families and gain their perspective on how deaths in custody are handled, whether more could be done to support families affected by a death in custody, and the families’ views on preventing a death in custody.  It is hoped that this important element of the review can commence once lockdown measures are eased.



(i) Read the full terms of reference here: Independent Review into the Handling of Deaths in Prison Custody