The Supreme Court’s curious constitutional U turn over prisoner rights – Richard A. Edwards

Supreme Court meets StrasbourgOsborn v The Parole Board [2013] UKSC 61 – Read judgment / Press summary

1 Crown Office Row’s David Manknell acted as junior counsel to the Parole Board in this case. He had no involvement in the writing of this post.

Writing in his magisterial new work, Human Rights and the UK Supreme Court, Professor Brice Dickson noted that the Human Rights Act had created ‘an internationalized system of human rights protection rather than a constitutional one.’ Indeed, there had been a marked resistance on the part of the Supreme Court to use the common law to achieve the same goal of human rights protection. In Osborn v The Parole Board the Supreme Court seemed to resile from this position.

Osborn, and the co-joined appeals, concerned the circumstances in which the Parole Board is required to hold oral hearings. Osborn had been recalled to prison after an immediate breach of his licence conditions. Booth and Reilly had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and in both cases the minimum term had expired. The appellants sought early release and had been denied an oral hearing by the Parole Board under the operation of the statutory regime (detailed in paras 3-17). Instead their cases had been decided on paper by a single anonymous member of the Board.

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Health protection “not a warrant for lifestyle fascism”

Cigarette_smokeCM, Re Judicial Review [2013] CSOH 143 – read judgment

The Scottish Court of Session has ruled that the prohibition of smoking and possession of tobacco products by patients at a mental hospital was unlawful. Whilst being careful to emphasise that this ruling did not spell out a specific right to smoke, the Court considered that the ban infringed the patients’ right to respect for home under Article 8.

The petitioner, a patient in a high security psychiatric hospital, sought judicial review of the policy adopted by the State Hospitals Board to ban smoking not just inside the hospital but also in the hospital grounds.  He claimed that the ban amounted to a breach of his right to respect for private life and home under Article 8, both as a stand‑alone claim and in combination with Article 14 (enjoyment of Convention rights without discrimination). He also argued that the ban constituted an unlawful and discriminatory infringement of his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions under Article 1 Protocol 1.

The petitioner further based his position on compassionate grounds, pointing out that there are few diversions available in the State Hospital; that he derived pleasure from smoking; and that as an individual with relatively few liberties the removal of his ability to smoke had had a disproportionately large impact on him. Continue reading

Policy allowing cross-gender searches in prisons not unlawful, says High Court

searchThe Queen (on the Application of James Dowsett) v Secretary of State for Justice [2013] EWHC 687 (Admin) – read judgment

The secretary of state’s policy in respect of rub-down searches of prisoners, which allows cross-gender searches in the case of male prisoners but not for female prisoners, does not discriminate against male prisoners on grounds of sex.

Background

The claimant, who has been a serving prisoner since 1989, challenged Secretary of State’s policy made under section 47(1) of the Prison Act 1952. This is the policy on so-called “rub-down” searches and, in particular, the policy that a male prisoner cannot normally object to such searches conducted by a female prison officer other than when his case falls within the exceptions based on “religious” or “cultural” grounds (a cultural ground means an objection that arises from a sincerely and deeply held belief, so it is not clear how this ground differs from religion). In consequence, the claimant had been searched by female officers on many occasions. Current policy with regard to female prisoners was that they could only be searched by female staff.  Continue reading

No prisoner votes in Scottish independence referendum – Andrew Tickell

voting copyToday, the Scottish Government have introduced the “paving Bill” to Holyrood which will finally settle the franchise for the independence referendum in 2014. If passed, it will finally extinguish the hopes of expats, diaspora Scots and those living furth of Scotland who wanted to vote in the poll.

Much of the attention has zoomed in on the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds, which ministers hope to affect by establishing a Register of Young Voters alongside the local government register. It is envisaged that this young voters roll will not be published.

European Court awards damages to prisoner after Parole Board backlog

man_in_prisonBETTERIDGE v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 1497/10 – HEJUD [2013] ECHR 97 – Read judgment

On 29 January the Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held that convicted rapist Samuel Betteridge’s Article 5(4) rights had been breached due to delays in his cases being considered by the Parole Board, and awarded him damages for his ‘frustration’.  The media furore, at varying degrees of accuracy, here and here.

The issue, by the time the matter reached the ECtHR, was whether the High Court (and the Government’s) “acknowledgment” of that Mr Betteridge’s Article 5(4) rights had been violated was sufficient redress.  In short, the ECtHR held that it wasn’t, particularly in circumstances where the systemic delays on the Parole Board Review System were caused by the Government’s failure to recognize and plan for the full effects of the IPP sentence (brought into force in the Criminal Justice Act 2003).   The ECtHR accepted that putting Mr Betteridge to the front of the Parole Board queue wasn’t the answer: that would simply jump him ahead of those who hadn’t sought judicial review.  However, damages could meet the ‘frustration’ he had been caused.

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Avalanche! Daily Mail on new year dishonour list for dodgy prisoner human rights article

Daily Mail 31.12.12Despite the Leveson Report, the Daily Mail’s brief flirtation with the Human Rights Act has not even lasted a month. This article by Home Affairs Correspondent Jack Doyle (Twitter: @jackwdoyle) is a weird one, even by the Mail’s standards. Here is the headline:

£500,000 a week in legal aid for prisoners’ human rights claims: YOU pay for them to seek easier life or early release

Clear, right? We are apparently spending £26m per year on prisoners’ human rights claims. And here is the first line:

Taxpayers are handing nearly £500,000 a week in legal aid to prisoners to help them make human rights claims.

That’s sounds like a lot of money to spend on prisoners’ human rights claims! But wait, there’s more… Continue reading

“No-one should be under any doubt – prisoners are not getting the vote under this government”

It is being reported that Parliament will, after all, get the opportunity to decide whether the blanket ban on convicted prisoners being able to vote will be lifted. MPs could get three options to choose from, including removing the ban for prisoners serving six months or less and those serving four years or less. A third option will be to maintain the status quo, with no convicted prisoners being able to vote.

The crucial question is: will this be enough to satisfy the Council of Europe, which monitors compliance with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights? The Government appears to think so. For my part, I am not so sure. To explain why, it is important to get a few of the facts right first.

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