The Round-up: child restraint and disenfranchisement
8 May 2016
Charlotte Bellamy brings you the latest human rights news
Children in privately-run youth detention centres are being seriously injured whilst being restrained by staff, according to a redacted Ministry of Justice report released to the Director of the children’s rights charity Article 39. The report focuses on four secure training centres (STCs) and two young offender institutions (YOIs) – the worst three of which are all run by G4S.
The report lists ‘restraints-gone-wrong’, where children were injured or suffered breathing difficulties in the process. Rainsbrook SCT – where teenager Gareth Myatt died in 2004 after choking on his own vomit while being restrained – had the highest number of incidents of serious injury. One child vomited from a prolonged restraint whilst being held in a seated position similar to the one used on Myatt. Government guidelines classify vomiting during restraint as a medical emergency.
Carolyne Willow, Director of Article 39, has been engaged in legal proceedings against the MoJ for access to an unredacted version of the manual ‘Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint’, published in 2012, which details the restraint techniques used in STCs and YOIs. However, the Upper Tribunal recently dismissed her appeal in Willow v Information Commissioner & Ministry of Justice , holding that disclosure of the information would threaten the good order and security of prisons, as inmates might develop countermeasures to the techniques. Willow had argued – unsuccessfully – that Article 3(1) of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child required a greater emphasis to be placed on the child’s interests when balancing them against the public interest (see the Panopticon Blog for further analysis).
It came to light last week that Medway SCT – the subject of a BBC Panorama exposé aired in January this year which showed G4S staff appearing to use excessive force on children – is to be taken over by the Ministry of Justice. Four members of staff had been arrested on charges of child neglect in relation to the allegations, following which G4S announced in February it was selling off the contracts to run Medway, Oakhill SCT, and 13 local authority children’s homes.
Andrew Neilson of the Howard League for Penal Reform had called at the time for SCTs to be shut down completely, calling them a “failed model”. The Ministry of Justice is due to announce the findings of the Independent Improvement Board set up by Michael Gove in response to the Medway allegations, which will detail the future of the centre.
A wider review is currently being conducted into youth justice by Charlie Taylor, former head teacher and child behavioural expert, the final report of which is expected in July. The interim findings (available here) recommend an overhaul of the youth custodial estate, replacing youth prisons with smaller secure schools focusing on education.
- In addition to the polling day problems in Barnet, it seems that thousands of women living in safe houses and refuges after fleeing domestic violence may have been disenfranchised. Mehala Osborne, a mother-of-one living in a refuge in Bristol, found it impossible to register anonymously as she could not adduce the required evidence to prove her safety would be at risk if her name and address appeared on the register. She estimates that 70% of women in refuges in Bristol and possibly across the country could be in the same situation. The evidence required for Anonymous Voter Registration is a court order or the attestation of an “authorised person” – a Police Superintendent, a Director of Adult Social Services, or the Director General of the Security Services or National Crime Agency. For many in Osborne’s situation, who have fled their homes quickly, there is no time to source such authorisation. The right to vote is protected by Article 3 Protocol 1 ECHR which states that the UK will “hold free elections … under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”. Osborne suggests that refuge and safe house management staff ought to be included in the definition of an “authorised person”.
- Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi last week told a US delegation that human rights in Egypt should not be viewed from a “Western perspective”. Though reportedly keen to emphasise his commitment to democracy, he explained that “differences in domestic and regional conditions” make it difficult to apply the same standards. 237 human rights protestors were arrested last week during a peaceful demonstration in Cairo against the el-Sisi regime, including two journalists – Mahmoud al-Sakka and Amr Badr, who work for the opposition website Bawabet Yanayer – for “spreading false news and endangering national security”. Amnesty International have described el-Sisi’s remarks as “deeply troubling”, saying that “he should stop making excuses … There’s nothing remotely ‘Western’ about basic human rights like the right not to suffer torture or to be able to speak freely without fear of arrest or imprisonment”.
- Arthur Scargill, the former miners’ union president, has called for an inquiry into the conduct of the South Yorkshire Police at the 1984 ‘Battle of Orgreave’. Thousands of minors clashed with the South Yorkshire police at the coking plant near Rotherham during the year long minors’ strike of 1984-5. A redacted version of the Independent Police Complaints Commission report into Orgreave was released last year, but the Yorkshire Post has now reported that the redacted sections proved the same senior police officers were involved in the aftermath of Orgreave as Hillsborough. Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham recently said that the full truth of policing at Hillsborough would not be known until there is transparency over Orgreave.
- An Italian court has ruled that the theft of a piece of cheese and a wurstel sausage by a homeless man was not a crime because he acted in “desperate and immediate need of nourishment”. Roman Ostriakov had been sentenced by a lower court in Genoa to six months in jail and €100 fine after being arrested for slipping the sausage and cheese into his pocket when buying breadsticks in the supermarket. The Court of Cassation finally found in his favour, after a three-part trial to determine whether the theft of the food (worth about £3.70) amounted to a crime or not, prompting some commentators to lambaste the country’s notoriously inefficient legal system. Others, however, have lauded the judgment as establishing a “sacrosanct principle” that a small theft out of hunger is not comparable to an act of delinquency, and as an act of humanity which showed that in Italy the right to survive trumps property rights – something which would be “blasphemy in America”.
In the Courts
- Cerf v Turkey – The Court found a violation of the duty to conduct an effective investigation under the procedural aspect of Article 2 (right to life) into the suspicious death of the applicant’s husband. The applicant’s husband, Serf Cerf, a local politician, was shot outside a café in the town of Yüreğir in 1994 and died on the spot. In 2000, the authorities arrested a man (in the course of operations carried out against Hizbullah, an outlawed organisation in Turkey) who confessed to killing Mr Cerf. Despite criminal proceedings being initiated against him and four others in 2000, they were not concluded until 2009 and 2013. The Court considered the delays to be excessive and incompatible with the State’s obligation under Article 2, which requires proceedings to be initiated promptly and to proceed with reasonable expedition. The delays entailed the conclusion that the investigation had been ineffective.
- Abdi Mahamud v Malta – violations of Article 3 and 5. This case concerned a female Somalian asylum seeker detained for more than 16 months in overcrowded conditions, with little privacy and limited access to outdoor exercise. All the care of detained women was carried out by male staff. Ms Mahamud had been detained in May 2012. A decision on her asylum application was not made until December 2012 (when it was rejected). In the meantime she had been frequently hospitalised due several medical conditions. She was interviewed for release on the grounds of ill-health in December 2012, but was not actually released until September 2013. The cumulative effect of the detention conditions was found by the Court to be a violation of Article 3 (degrading treatment); a violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) § 1 was found in respect of the length of both periods of detention (seven months pending the asylum decision and the rest pending her removal). The lack of available measure to challenge the lawfulness of her detention was a violation of Article 5 § 4.
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