Passive smoking in prison not a breach of human rights – Court of Appeal

Cigarette_smokeSmith, R (on the application of v Secretary of State for Justice and G4S UK Ltd  [2014] EWCA Civ 380 – read judgment

This case raises the question of whether it is a breach of a non-smoking prisoner’s Convention right to respect for his private life and to equality of access to such rights (ECHR Articles 8 and 14) to compel him to share a cell with a smoker.

The appellant, a convicted sex offender serving a long sentence, was required between 21st and 28th March 2012 to share a cell with a fellow prisoner who was a smoker. It was known to the prison authorities that the appellant was a non-smoker, and the requirement to share with a smoker was contrary to his wishes. The sharing complained of ended when the appellant was transferred to another prison on 28th March 2012.

Continue reading

Court of Appeal calls on Supreme Court to resolve conflict between UK and Strasbourg law

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297Kaiyam v Secretary of State for Justice and Haney v Secretary of State for Justice (9 December 2013) [2013] EWCA Civ 1587 – read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ruled that continued detention in prison following the expiry of the “minimum terms” or “tariff periods” of their indeterminate terms of imprisonment did not breach prisoners’ Convention or common law rights, but has left it to the Supreme Court to determine the substance of the Convention claims in detail.

The appellant prisoners claimed that their continued detention breached the Article 5, and in one case Article 14.  The courts at first instance had been  obliged to dismiss the claims under Article 5 in the light of the House of Lords decision in  R(James and others) v Secretary of State for Justice [2009] UKHL 22[2010] 1 AC 553, notwithstanding that Strasbourg subsequently held in James, Wells and Lee v United Kingdom that the House of Lords decision was wrong. Continue reading

Guidance from the Supreme Court on human rights damages

prison2aFaulkner, R (on the application of ) v  Secretary of State for Justice and another [2013] UKSC 23 – read judgment

The Supreme Court has taken a fresh look at what is meant by the Human Rights Act exhortation to take Strasbourg jurisprudence “into account” when fashioning remedies for violations of Convention rights, in this case the right not to be arbitrarily detained under Article 5.

These appeals concerned the circumstances in which a prisoner serving a life sentence or an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection (“IPP”), who has served the minimum period specified for the purposes of retribution and deterrence (the “tariff”), and whose further detention is justified only if it is necessary for the protection of the public, should be awarded damages for delay in reviewing the need for further detention following the expiry of the tariff.

Appellate courts do not ordinarily interfere with an award of damages simply because they would have awarded a different figure if they had tried the case. However, as the Supreme Court was being asked in this case to give guidance on quantum, the Court determined the level of the award that would adequately compensate the appellants. Continue reading

Shouting is a lawful interrogation technique, says High Court

10_03-the-smoking-compartment--the-interrogation-room-1Ali Hussein v Secretary of State for Defence [2013] EWHC 95 (Admin) – read judgment

Collins J has dismissed a claim that the MOD’s policy of allowing interrogators to shout at a captured person in order to obtain information is unlawfully oppressive. Not only did the complaint fail but it was denounced as “misconceived” and one which should never have been pursued.

Background

 British armed services have two policies for questioning captured persons (CPERS) who are believed to possess valuable information which may protect the lives of other members of the forces or civilians, for example the location of roadside bombs. Continue reading

Courts should take note of Strasboug’s doctrine of deference

R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice [2012] EWHC 1810 (Admin)- read judgment

This case about prisoner’s pay provides an interesting up to date analysis of the role of the doctrine of “margin of appreciation” and its applicability in domestic courts.

Margin of appreciation is a doctrine of an international court: it recognises a certain distance of judgment between the Strasbourg court’s overall apprehension of the Convention principles and their application in practice by the national authorities. In theory it has no application in domestic disputes but ever since the Human Rights Act introduced Convention rights into domestic law there has been an ongoing debate about its applicability at a local level. This case demonstrates the importance of its role in the assessment, by the courts, of the compatibility of laws and rules with Convention rights.

Continue reading

Refusal of child care leave to female prisoners was unlawful, rules High Court

MP, R(on the application of) v the Secretary of State for Justice   [2012] EWHC 214 (Admin) – read judgment

The prison authorities had acted unlawfully in restricting childcare resettlement leave to prisoners who were within two years of their release date and had been allocated to “open” conditions.

Two female prisoners applied for judicial review of decisions of the defendant secretary of state and prison governors to refuse them childcare resettlement leave (CRL). CRL is a type of temporary licence available to prisoners who have sole caring responsibility for a child under 16. CRL enables prisoners to spend up to three days at home (including nights), provided certain conditions are met. The principal issue in the claim was whether the secretary of state was acting lawfully in restricting CRL to female prisoners who have less than 2 years until their earliest release date. Continue reading

All by myself: segregation, prisons and Article 6

Bourgass and others v Secretary of State for Justice [2012] EWCA Civ 376 Read decision

The ability to interact with other prisoners is a major part of prison life, and not one many prisoners would give up willingly. But there are circumstances where prisoners have to be segregated from the rest of the prison population, such as where they are posing a violent threat to another prisoner or planning an escape. The Court of Appeal has recently looked into the question of how decisions to segregate are made, including the initial decision, the review of the decision and ultimately judicial review, in a human rights context.

Continue reading

Strasbourg is not the Vatican…yet.

Behind the Times paywall Anthony Lester today declares that “Sniping at Strasbourg will only hinder reform”. In his guest column, he says that Court is suffering unfair criticism from “sections of the British media” and “politicians who accuse it of over-reaching its power”. That may well be the case, but the most searing and authoritative criticism comes not from politicians or the press but from Lord Lester’s own profession – see Jonathan Sumption QC’s recent broadside (and our post) and Lord Hoffmann’s much-discussed analysis (posted here).  

If the Court is indeed hobbled by unfair squibs and arrows from a resentful sector of the British populace, as Lord Lester suggests, why is the prisoner votes example the only one he can come up with? That is an important fight, at least from a constitutional angle, but not the only flashpoint;  the Court’s tendency to act as fourth instance appeal tribunal particularly on deportation and terrorism cases is arguably far more “dangerous” and certainly of concern to more people than votes for prisoners. Continue reading

Tiny cells, violence and language barriers: the life of a European prisoner?

The European Commission has begun a consultation process to explore the impact of pre-trial detention in the European Union (EU). The particular focus, summarised in its Green Paper, is how pre-trial detention issues affect judicial co-operation generally within the EU.

The issue is being debated at the moment in the UK, with a group of MPs urging an overhaul to international extradition rules. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its report on The Human Rights implications of UK extradition policy (read summary here), in which it concludes that the current statutory framework does not provide effective protection for human rights.

The EU has an interest in these questions, given the fundamental rights which is seeks to uphold. Article 4 of the EU Charter mirrors Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, prohibiting torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

Continue reading

The human rights cost of preventing people from voting

See a more recent post on this topic here

One of the enduring images of the 2010 General Election will be of long queues of people turned away from polling stations due to lack of facilities. This may well result in legal action. But according to Lord Pannick, the worse scandal may be the exclusion of 85,000 prisoners, which he says is “a constitutional disgrace that undermines the legitimacy of the democratic process”.

The BBC reports this morning that hundreds of voters were turned away from polling stations throughout the UK. This was initially blamed on a higher than expected turnout. The Electoral Commission has promised a “thorough review“, but legal action may follow from the individuals, who have been denied their basic rights, but also from the parties who may argue that marginal results would have been different if people hadn’t been turned away. In the likely outcome of a hung parliament, every seat counts and litigation may therefore follow (Update - Afua Hirch in The Guardian: Legal challenge to polling stations could result in byelections; meanwhile, Liberty, the human rights organisation, says that it will investigate the issue on behalf of voters.)

Those who have been disenfranchised may be entitled to claim under the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 1, Protocol 3 of the European Convention provides:

“The High Contracting Parties shall hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.”

This Article imposes obligations on States, and the provision includes the right to vote. Voters should be able to claim for damages under section 8 of the Human Rights Act if they can prove that they were denied a vote due to administrative incompetence, which appears to have been the case in some places. Whilst high turnout may have been a factor, voters will argue that high turnout has been predicted for a while, and should have been planned for. Similar claims were made in respect of the controversial 2000 presidential election in the United States, which was ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court, but resulted in months of paralysis.

85,000 claims?

Whilst a few hundred appear to have been affected by administrative incompetence, Lord Pannick, barrister and cross-bench peer, argues that the absolute ban on prisoners voting runs contrary to repeated decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. We have posted recently on the tens of thousands of potential compensation claims that may result, which Lord Pannick estimates will be worth at least £750 each. Similar claims may be available to those who were denied the vote for other reasons.

Lord Pannick is scathing of the Government’s failure to implement the European decisions. He says:

Continue reading

Prisoners in psychiatric hospitals not entitled to equal benefits with other patients

R (D and M) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; R (EM) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2010] EWCA Civ 18

Read judgment

With apologies, this post originally appeared with the wrong title

The Court of Appeal has ruled on two linked challenges to the entitlement to welfare benefits of prisoners detained in psychiatric hospitals. One claim alleged unlawful discrimination as compared with other psychiatric patients not serving sentences, in breach of Article 14 ECHR, taken together with Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR. The other claim raised a point of construction of the relevant regulations affecting one category of such prisoners

The discrimination aspect of the case considered two categories of convicted, sentenced prisoners: those transferred to psychiatric hospitals under section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983, and those subject to hospital and limitation directions under section 45A of the Act. Prisoners in the first category are transferred after sentence, and generally after serving time in prison, while those in the second were subject to a direction at the same time as they are sentenced. Such prisoners were to be contrasted with, on the one hand, convicted prisoners who serve their sentence in prison and, on the other, patients who have been detained under purely civil law powers or under section 37 of the Act (that is, following conviction, but without any sentence having been passed). Continue reading

More prisoners disenfranchised, this time in Austria

Frodl v Austria (Application no. 20201/04) 8 April 2010 – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has taken another opportunity to criticise a European state for not allowing a prisoner, in this case convicted of murder, to vote. Prisoners will not be voting in the upcoming UK General Election, which may yet lead to a slew of compensation claims against the Government.

We posted recently on the continuing refusal of the UK Government to comply with the 2005 judgment of Hirst v UK, where the European Court held that the ban on prisoners voting in the UK was a breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In Frodl v Austria the Court said that any restriction on voting rights must be proportionate to the end pursued, and

“must reflect, or not run counter to, the concern to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of an electoral procedure aimed at identifying the will of the people through universal suffrage. Any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risks undermining the democratic validity of the legislature thus elected and the laws it promulgates.”

The Court went on to find a violation of the European Convention, for the reason that “it is inconceivable… that a prisoner should forfeit his Convention rights merely because of his status as a person detained following conviction“.

The Court added that a prisoner’s right to vote could in some cases be taken away, but only in the limited scenario where a prisoner was detained as a result of the abuse of a public position or a threat to undermine the rule of law or democratic foundations. In other words, there needs to be a “direct link between the facts on which a conviction is based and the sanction of disenfranchisement“.

In the UK, the Government have shown little willingness to enfranchise prisoners and convicts. This may well be because it prefers the risk of thousands of compensation claims, as well as continuing criticism from Europe, to taking the politically unpopular decision of allowing convicted criminals  to vote.

Read more:

Prisoner takes UK to court for right to vote

Prisoner taking UK to European Court over voting human rightsA prisoner is suing the UK Government in the European Court of Human Rights for the right to vote in the upcoming General Election. With voting registration already closed, he won’t be voting in the election, but he may receive compensation. This could open the door to claims from tens of thousands of prisoners in the UK.

The BBC reports that Leon Punchard, 19, who is serving an 18-month sentence at Norwich prison for burglary, has filed an application to the European Court for a declaration and compensation.

We have already posted on the ban on prisoners voting (see here and here). Four years ago, the European Court of Human Rights criticised the policy in Hirst v UK, which arose out of the 2002 case of R v Home Secretary ex parte Hirst. The European Court held that Section 4 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 which prevents prisoners from voting is in breach of the electoral right under Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Government insists that it is still considering the responses to its second stage consultation on the issue, despite it closing over six months ago. With voter registration for the 2010 General Election closing on 20 April, prisoners will not get their chance to vote in a general election for at least a few more years.

However, Mr Prichard may well win a compensation payment from the UK Government, which the European Court of Human Rights has the power to award in cases where a contracting state has breached a citizen’s human rights. This could open the door to the other 87,883 serving prisoners to bring their own legal actions.

Read more:

Prisoners still disenfranchised

Prisoners will be unable to vote in the general election despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling almost five years ago that the blanket ban was unlawful.

The House of Lords discussed the issue in the small hours of 7 April 2010 when Lord Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which would have removed the ban.

Lord Ramsbotham lamented that the Government was “frightened of offending reactionary public opinion by appearing not to be tough on criminals” and “determined to prevaricate for as long as possible, going to absurd lengths, such as suggesting that prisoners had lost the moral authority to vote.”

The Government insists that it is still considering the responses to its second stage consultation, despite it closing over six months ago.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has also expressed serious concern, noting that the Government risks not only political embarrassment at the Council of Europe, but will be in breach of its international obligation to secure the full enjoyment of Convention rights for everyone within its jurisdiction.

Read more