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Systems Change

Scrutiny & Accountability

Why do we need effective scrutiny and accountability?

Whether it’s in policing, courts, prisons or probation, criminal justice bodies have a range of powers which can deprive an individual of their liberty and significantly impact their lives and their futures. The criminal justice system is largely hidden from public view, and few have insight into what happens behind its closed doors. It is essential that criminal justice bodies are effectively scrutinised to ensure they are treating people fairly and humanely in line with international human rights standards.  

There are many independent inspectorates and groups who scrutinise different parts of the criminal justice system at a local, national and international level. However, they face a range of barriers which prevent them from fully holding criminal justice bodies to account and driving change. 

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Our recent work:

Independent monitoring of race and gender equality in police custody

Our Just visiting? report looks at the effectiveness of independent custody visitors in monitoring the treatment and welfare of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people and women in police custody. We found some examples of good practice, but raised concerns that some custody visitors lacked understanding of indirect discrimination and institutional racism and that schemes were not representative of the demographics of people detained in police custody.

Read the report

Community scrutiny of policing

Our Stop and Scrutinise report found that Community Scrutiny Panels — independent groups made up of members of the public that meet regularly to scrutinise their local police forces — face a range of barriers which limit their effectiveness. 

This report led the College of Policing to release new guidance encouraging community scrutiny, and the Mayor of London called for increased use of community scrutiny in an action plan on improving trust and confidence in the Metropolitan Police.

Find out more

Strengthening the independent scrutiny bodies

In this briefing, we discuss how independent bodies such as the Prison and Probation Ombudsman and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons could be strengthened to more effectively hold criminal justice bodies to account. We also call for independent oversight of courts and community scrutiny of probation.

Read the briefing