The latest reports of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights lay bare the conditions in some British prisons.
Some of the language that is used to describe living conditions in the Chief Inspector’s report is shocking – including “appalling”, “squalid”, “intolerable”, “extremely squalid” and beset with “vermin and filth”.
The Chief Inspector’s view is that such conditions “should not feature in 21st century jails”. This conclusion was expressed prior to the further impact caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The conclusion of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is that the Government’s response and the deficiencies in the measures to mitigate the impact of this “have put at risk the right to family life of up to an estimated 17,000 children of mothers in prison”.
In the view of this author, the evidence indicates that in several respects the UK may well be in breach of vital protections for prisoners and their families under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This extended piece will examine these issues in detail.
The Queen (on the Application of James Dowsett) v Secretary of State for Justice  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.
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 →
The Court of Appeal last week partially granted an application for judicial review of the cuts to Legal Aid in certain categories of prison law. The judgment may change the face of legal representation for prisoners across the UK.
The Government has until 22 November to put forth legislative proposals in order to comply with the court’s rulings on prisoner votes.
I will not retrace the bizarre flip-flop which took place yesterday afternoon as the Attorney General appeared to say one thing about implementing the judgment (it’s complicated) and then the Prime Minister another (no way). Joshua Rozenberg has it right when he calls the situation “profoundly depressing”. For the full background, see my post on Scoppola No. 3, the last judgment on the issue.
I do have three thoughts on the current situation. First, it has become popular to say that there may be a way of solving the crisis which doesn’t require the UK to give any more prisoners the vote, which would be to tell the European Court of Human Rights that we already let remand prisoners and others who haven’t paid fines vote. The argument has been made variously by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, The Independent’s John Rentoul and even last night by a member of the Justice Select Committee, Nick de Bois MP – he told BBC Radio 4 (from 26:25) that “you could almost argue that there isn’t a blanket ban… for example someone on prison on remand or.. for not paying a fine doesn’t lose their right to vote” (I am interviewed immediately afterwards).
In short, unless I am missing something, this argument seems bound to fail. Continue reading →
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that states must allow for at least some prisoners to vote, but that states have a wide discretion as to deciding which prisoners. This amounts to a retreat on prisoner votes, but certainly no surrender. As I predicted, the court reaffirmed the principles set out in Hirst No. 2, that an automatic and indiscriminate bans breach the European Convention on Human Rights, but also reaffirmed that it was up to states to decide how to remove those indiscriminate bans.
I have compared the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel. Today’s ruling means that the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table.
Although Scoppola is a case which arose in Italy, the decision is of critical important to the UK for two reasons. First, the Court has made clear to the UK Government that it now has six months from today to bring forth legislative proposals which will end the blanket disenfranchisement of prisoners – see the Court’s helpful press release which explains the effect on the UK. Secondly, the Grand Chamber has now clarified the basic outline of how it expects states to comply with the original prisoner votes ruling, also of the Grand Chamber, in Hirst No. 2. For the full background, see my post from last week or Joshua Rozenberg’s excellent article on Guardian.co.uk.
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 →
R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice  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.
Update | TheVoting Eligibility (Prisoners) Draft Bill has been released. It will not be put straight before Parliament for a vote; rather, it will be put to a Committee of both Houses for full Parliamentary scrutiny which could propose amendments, then back to the Government which will “reflect on its recommendations” and subsequently introduce a bill. There is no timetable set out for this process, but I imagine the Council of Europe may want a timetable imposed.
The bill sets out three options:
A ban for prisoners sentenced to 4 years or more.
A ban for prisoners sentenced to more than 6 months.
A ban for all convicted prisoners – a restatement of the existing ban.
Bourgass and others v Secretary of State for Justice  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.
Shahid v The Scottish Ministers  ScotCS CSIH – 18 – read judgment
Solitary confinement of a dangerous prisoner in accordance with the prison rules was neither unlawful nor in breach of his Convention rights, the Scottish Court of Session has ruled.
The petitioner (as we shall call him to avoid confusion, rather than the more accurate “reclaimer”) was serving a life sentence for what the court described as a “brutal and sadistic” racially motivated murder of a 15 year old white boy in 2006. Apart from a short period during his trial he remained continuously segregated until 13 August 2010, when he was allowed once again to associate with other prisoners (“mainstream”). He claimed that his segregation was contrary to the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2006 and, separately, contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides protection against torture and cruel and unusual punishments, and Article 8, which protects the right to private life. He sought declarations to that effect and £6,000 by way of damages. Continue reading →
Desmond Grant and Roger Charles Gleaves v Ministry of Justice High Court (Queen’s Bench Division) 19 December 2011 – read judgment
The High Court (Mr Justice Hickinbottom) has today dismissed claims by two prisoners that their rights under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated by the prison conditions in which they were detained.
The following is based on the High Court’s summary of the case.
About 360 long term prisoners, who were at HMP Albany between 2004 and 2011, brought claims that their right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 and their right to respect for private and life under Article 8 had been violated by the regime under which they were detained in that prison, which included the use of a bucket for toilet purposes when they were in a locked cell and the later emptying of the bucket at a sluice (“slopping out”). Five lead claims were selected, of which two reached trial. Continue reading →
MP, R(on the application of) v the Secretary of State for Justice  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 →
Updated | Greens and M.T. v. the United Kingdom (application nos. 60041/08 & 60054/08) – Read judgment / press release (which the case summary below is based on)
The European Court of Human Rights is to give the UK a deadline of six months in order to allow prisoners to vote in elections, or it could face significant consequences.
The warning came by way of the judgment in a new case concerning the continued failure to amend the legislation imposing a blanket ban on voting in national and European elections for convicted prisoners in detention in the United Kingdom. The court, following its own five-year-old decision in Hirst No . 2, found a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) to the European Convention on Human Rights but no violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the Convention.
Updated | The dust has hardly settled on the government’s decision to allow prisoners to vote when, with uncanny timing, the European Court of Human Rights has denied the Austrian government permission to appeal in a similar case involving prisoners’ voting rights.
The Strasbourg court has notified Austria that its request for referral of the case of Frodl v Austria to the Grand Chamber has been rejected. This is likely to have a significant impact on the UK’s implementation of the prisoner voting system, as the court in Frodl effectively ruled that the disenfranchisement of prisoners could only happen on rare occasions: namely, 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. As I said in Monday’s post:
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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