Death in custody review

Two year review recommends independent body investigates prison deaths.

A new process to investigate prison deaths has been welcomed in principle by Justice Secretary Keith Brown.

In November 2019, then Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf asked Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland (HMCIPS) to review the response to deaths in prisons.

Reporting today, the review has made a number of recommendations, including that an independent body should carry out an investigation into every death in prison custody.

This is intended to complement the current inquiry processes, including Fatal Accident Inquires. Adopting this recommendation would bring Scotland in line with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

All of the review’s recommendations have been accepted in principle by the Scottish Government.

Other recommendations include involving families or next of kin of those who have died in prison custody in the investigation process and stipulating that investigations must be completed within a matter of months.

The review further recommends methods of learning from cases should be built into the entire process from the outset.

Justice Secretary Keith Brown said:

“I would like to thank Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland and co-Chairs for the important work carried out and thank the families involved in the review. Their willingness to revisit the grief they experienced and the insights gained through their participation has made this important work possible.

“We accept in principle the review’s recommendations and will very carefully consider the detail of these and take forward as a matter of priority improvements with key partners that will effect change to improve the ways that deaths of loved ones in prison custody are experienced by bereaved families.

“This includes the key recommendation of an independent body separately examining every death in custody.

“We are committed to making improvements to the response to, and experiences of, families impacted by a death in custody.”


The Independent Review of the Response to Deaths in Prison Custody report follows two years of research, analysis and engagement with families affected by the issue. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland worked alongside Professor Nancy Loucks of Families Outside and Judith Robertson Chair of the Human Rights Commission, who provided external expertise. 


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