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People risk unjust prison sentences due to lack of court healthcare

Innocent people are at risk of being given unjust prison sentences and suffering physical harm because of a lack of healthcare in courthouses, according to the outgoing head of the independent body charged with monitoring the care and welfare of those brought to court in England and Wales.

Tony FitzSimons, the outgoing chair of the Lay Observers’ National Council, has told the Guardian that there is a risk that at least 6% of those who come to trial go on to be imprisoned unfairly or kept in prison for too long, because a lack of medical attention while waiting for their case to be heard means they are not able to present their case effectively in court.

The Council’s third annual report, published on Wednesday, is scathing in the failings it records in the care of people held in custody at courts and transported between police stations, prisons and courts by escort contractors.

The “main dangers” of the current system, said FitzSimons, is the “very real” risk of “prejudice and impairment of a person’s fitness for trial”. “In our view, that’s a very serious yet routine issue in courts,” he said. “About 25% of the people we see in courts have a medical impairment and of those, about 25% don’t have adequate medication.

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