How do the police get a prisoner to court? There are two ways.
- Bail them
- Remand them
In the first scenario the person is released from custody. They are given a date and time to appear before the court and must do so. They are on their own recognizance and failure to appear will often lead to a warrant for their arrest. In the second case the we have decided that the offence is too serious to release the person. We may also be concerned that the person may commit further offences, fail to attend court and in some cases it may be necessary for their own safety. A remanded person is held in police cells until the next court sitting. They are then transported to the local court. The court may, in some cases, be linked to the police station and prisoners can be passed from police to court cell staff by a secure corridor. As more forces move toward larger custody facilities they tend to be remote from the courts. It is important to remember that court cell staff are not police. They are private contractors such as G4S, Reliance and GeoAmey. The word thrown around when talking of such companies is “partners”. If the court and police station are not linked then transport vehicles, commonly known as “sweatboxes”, will come to police custody collect the prisoners and move them to court. Again these vehicles are provided by our partners. In some forces the number of prisoner movements to court has been reduced by the introduction of video courts. This is a process where the court itself and a dedicated “court room” at police custody are linked by video. The court will conduct its business as usual and the suspect can be miles away. The court and prisoner can see and hear one another by way of several cameras, microphones and large TV screens. However, even with the introduction of VEC around the country there is still the need for movement of remand prisoners for other areas. A VEC cannot hear cases for other force areas/counties. There are also some categories of prisoner (violent, juvenile, needing an interpreter) that cannot be placed on VEC. As such our partners, through the PECS contracts still need to move prisoners around force areas, regions and nationally. This was traditionally a job that the police used to do ourselves. We would move our own prisoners to court and had a transport infrastructure to make that happen. If a national movement was needed then the ‘owning’ force would collect. As an example; if the Met arrested a person wanted on warrant for a Lancashire court then the Met would tell Lancs and they would go and collect the prisoner. These days the Met would inform their PECS contract holder and they would move the person direct to court in Lancashire. This all makes sense. Using ‘partners’ keeps the police in their local area doing police work and not ferrying prisoners around the country. Apparently it also saves the government money. There are different PECS contract holders and they all operate much in the same way with minor differences. They are not without issue though. The same suspects appear every time, Serco, G4S, GeoAmey etc and the contracts are not without problems. The issue I have is with the term ‘partners’. The Oxford dictionary says; Partner (noun) a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or firm with shared risks and profits The PECS contract holders have taken part in an undertaking with us as a business. That all fits. The police are not in the business of making profits so we can ignore that bit. So what about ‘shared risks’? The PECS contractors are required to move people to court for the police. They will also move people from court to prison. When I’m on nights my team send an email to the PECS contract holder detailing all the detainees that need moving. They will then turn up around 8am and take them all to court. Sometimes, depending on what is needed, several vans may come to head off in different directions. Simple. Works. Sorted. Not so fast. The contracts are squeezed to their limit to be as lean as possible and maximise profits to shareholders. As a consequence it regularly falls over. Why? You can’t manage an unpredictable service with a predictable and rigid contract that has no resilience built into it. Early morning arrests on warrant that need national movements don’t get picked up. We are told they have no capacity and the arrested person stays in custody over 24hrs longer than they need to. Some national movements are so slow to happen that by the time they arrive at the destination the court has closed. Local police cells then have to lodge people overnight. A fast case processed in custody in the morning and remanded by 10am falls to the contractor to collect. They advise they have no capacity and cannot move the person. Who moves the prisoner? We do. The contract holder gets the overnight notification and hasn’t read it properly. One of the detainees is female. They have organised their fleet and sent a van based on men only. They cannot move males and females together and there is no capacity for another van. Who moves the prisoner? We do. They are our partners. They share the risk. Well maybe on paper they do but when push come to shove the police pick up the pieces of their failings. Worse is that our one way partners seem to actually RELY on this. A ‘don’t worry the police will sort it out’ attitude pervades. Any commitment to fulfil contractual obligations is dismissed in favour of the problem being ours. Whilst partners help one another with the unexpected, this happens almost every single day. We are a bolt on to ensure their contract works. Partners? The contract is inefficient and not fit for purpose yet the Government is committed to this partnership with private sectors and wants to save money. A couple of days ago one of our motorway patrols arrested a man on warrant. It was a minor offence but he had failed to attend court. He was driven to our custody suite and booked in. The court wanting him was 160 miles away. The PECS contractors came and collected him. Two staff in a large van with low MPG compared to a suitable car or smaller van drove him 160 miles to court. Most likely to appear, get a fine and be released. The contractors then had to drive 160 miles back to base. Wasteful? I’d say so. Is it time for the courts to change tack on how they deal with cases like this? Should the person be put before the court in the area they were arrested like breach of bail? It would save a pile of money as these movements are happening all over the country and every day. Often with one person on the van. With the advent of VEC there is potential given the right technology and coordination to put that warrant on a video link not to the local court but to the one 160 miles away. That would save everyone time and money. Many local courts would say “We can’t hear that case. We don’t have the file, it’s not our jurisdiction and who would pay?” Nothing that can’t be solved with a bit of intelligent management. After all the law is the same across the country and the sentencing guidelines are the same too. We talk about saving money and at the minute it’s biting into every area of policing. No department is exempt. We are losing officers and staff whilst most forces have gone into overdrive recruiting Special Constables.. (though they are not a replacement we are told). Pay, pensions and conditions are all getting a trouncing, morale is as low as I’ve ever seen it and officers are overstretched and stressed. Yet right under our noses the government are implementing contracts with ‘partners’, worth £millions, that are haemorrhaging money. When they fall down we pick up the pieces and are relied upon to do so.. when are the police going to say.. “I’m sorry but we just don’t have the capacity to deal with that” … lets face it. Our ‘partners’ do this all the time.