Category: Prisons


European Court awards damages to prisoner after Parole Board backlog

15 February 2013 by

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

31 December 2012 by

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

18 November 2012 by

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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Recall of prisoner on home curfew did not breach right to liberty

25 October 2012 by

Whiston, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice – read judgment

When a prisoner is recalled from home detention curfew he does not suffer a fresh deprivation of liberty so as to engage Article 5(4)of the Convention.  

Since this part of Article 5 confers a right on any person who is detained to challenge the legality of the detention determined by a body sufficiently judicial in character, the lack of review would render the decision unlawful. As Lord Elias says in his opening remarks,

This is one of a growing number of cases which have bedevilled the appellate courts on the question whether and when decisions affecting prison detention engage that Article. Problems arise because of the combination of general and imprecise Strasbourg principles and the complexity of English sentencing practices.
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More shenanigans on prisoner votes

25 October 2012 by

No means no

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.
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Back in the spotlight: the detention of mentally ill asylum seekers

9 October 2012 by

R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) – read judgment

1 Crown Office Row’s Robert Kellar was instructed for the Defendant in this case.  He is not the writer of this post.

The High Court has ruled that the failure to consider the continued detention of a mentally ill failed asylum seeker in accordance with immigration policy rendered his detention unlawful in part.

The Claimant applied for asylum based upon his account of an attack during the Rwandan genocide and subsequent events.  The Home Secretary refused the application and the Claimant appealed.  At the appeal he was unrepresented and he adduced no medical evidence.  The Immigration Judge dismissed his appeal, disbelieving the entirety of his account. Once his appeal rights had been exhausted (that is, he was unable to appeal any further through the courts), the Secretary of State detained him on 19 October 2010 for the purpose of removal.

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When indefinite becomes arbitrary: James, Wells and Lee v UK

24 September 2012 by

JAMES, WELLS AND LEE v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 25119/09 57715/09 57877/09 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1706 – Read judgment / press release

As Andrew Tickell noted in his post on Wednesday the European Court of Human Rights this week ruled that the UK violated the Article 5(1) ECHR rights of three prisoners sentenced to indeterminate prison sentences for public protection, where reasonable provision for their rehabilitation was not made. 

In April 2005, the Government introduced indeterminate imprisonment for the public protection, or “IPP sentences”, whereby certain prisoners would not have a right to parole.  Instead, under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, they would remain in prison following expiry of their tariff periods until a Parole Board had decided they were no longer a risk to the public.  Prior to an amendment in 2008, an IPP sentence was mandatory where there was a future risk of further offending, and there was an assumption of risk where there was a previous conviction for a violent or sexual offence unless the sentencing judge considered it unreasonable to make such an assumption.


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The UK and Strasbourg: a victim fantasy

19 September 2012 by

Brought to you by Andrew Tickell

Rhubarb, rhubarb. Another defeat for the United Kingdom in Strasbourg yesterday. In James, Wells and Lee v. the United Kingdom, a chamber of the Court’s Fourth Section held that indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection infringed Article 5 of the Convention.  At his first Justice Questions in the House of Commons yesterday, our fresh-minted Conservative Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, advised MPs that:

“I’m very disappointed with the ECHR decision this morning.  I have to say, it is not an area where I welcome the Court, seeking to make rulings.  It is something we intend to appeal.”

One wonders which areas Mr Grayling would welcome the Court’s jurisdiction, but all in all, a somewhat tepid response from a man whose appointment was greeted by the Daily Mail with the enthusiastic suggestion that Grayling…

“… unlike his predecessor Ken Clarke, will have no truck with the cardboard judges at the European Court of Human Rights.”

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How most Australians do human rights without a Human Rights Act

9 July 2012 by

A sparkling, erudite and funny lecture last Thursday 5 July from the Chief Justice of Australia, exploring how the Australian system with a constitution, but without a Bill of Rights/Human Rights Act, seeks to deliver human rights protection – thanks to the Administrative Law Bar Association and the Angl0-Australasian Law Society. I shall try to summarise the differences, though, rather like the pre-HRA UK position, Australian human rights protection is a subtle one and a difficult one to explain in a short post. Particularly for a Pom. So I am in part throwing down a challenge to our Australian readers (up until this point, at least, quite a few) to comment on what follows.

The constitutional framework  is all important. There are three major differences between this and the UK “constitution”. The first is the presence of a written constitution over 100 years old, and amendable only by referendum. The second is a federal system laid down by that constitution. Out of that arrangement comes a separation of powers between judiciary, legislature, and executive, and also between the Commonwealth (i.e, the federation) and each State, taken against the background of general common law principles drawn from the States’ shared colonial history. And the third is the lack of any substantive human rights instrument applicable to Australia as a whole.

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Courts should take note of Strasboug’s doctrine of deference

6 July 2012 by

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.


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We need to think about Kevin

29 May 2012 by

Monsters are born, not made: the latest round in the debate about criminal responsibility questions the very  existence of intuitive morality.

US neuroscientist Sam Harris claims in a new book that free will is such a misleading illusion that we need to rethink our criminal justice system on the basis of discoveries coming from the neurological wards and MRI scans of the human brain in action.

The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously demonstrated in the 1980s that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. Subjects were hooked up to an EEG machine and were asked to move their left or right hand at a time of their choosing. They watched a specially designed clock to notice what time it was when they were finally committed to moving left or right hand. Libet measured the electrical potentials of their brains and discovered that nearly half a second before they were aware of what they were going to do, he was aware of their intentions. Libet’s findings have been borne out more recently in direct recordings of the cortex from neurological patients. With contemporary brain scanning technology, other scientists in 2008 were able to predict with 60% accuracy whether subjects would press a button with their left or right hand up to 10 seconds before the subject became aware of having made that choice (long before the preparatory motor activity detected by Libet).
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The case for letting prisoners vote – Reuven Ziegler

24 May 2012 by

Last Tuesday saw the latest episode in the prisoner voting legal saga with the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber’s judgment  reversing the Chamber judgment which found Italy’s automatic ban on voting for prisoners serving over 3 years in prison (and a lifetime ban with the possibility of future relief for those sentenced to more than 5 years) in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Adam Wagner has compared  the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel, noting that ‘the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table’. Indeed, the UK must still allow at least some prisoners the vote, as required by the 2005 judgment in Hirst v UK (No.2) and the 2010 judgment in Greens & MT v UK.  Over at EJIL: Talk!, Marko Milanovic rightly accounts for the unholy mix of law and (inter)national politics that has generated the Grand Chamber’s unprincipled judgment. Indeed, as Carl Gardner suggests on the Head of Legal blog all that logically remains of the Hirst judgment is that automatic disenfranchisement of prisoners that are sentenced for less than 3 years (probably) breaches the convention.

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European Court of Human Rights retreats but doesn’t surrender on prisoner votes

22 May 2012 by

CASE OF SCOPPOLA v. ITALY (No. 3)(Application no. 126/05) – Read judgment / press release / press release on UK implications

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.


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European Court got it right on mental health detention delay – Martha Spurrier

7 May 2012 by

This piece is in response to Rosalind English’s post on this blog arguing that in M.S. v United Kingdom the European Court extended to far the ambit of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which protects against torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment. This post argues that the European Court’s ruling is both a logical step in the jurisprudence and a welcome one for the protection of those with mental health problems in state detention. 

M.S. v United Kingdom identifies a gap in the provision of crisis mental healthcare for those in state detention that has long been recognised by lawyers, campaigning organisations, carers, service users, the police and healthcare providers. The judgment is a welcome recognition of two things: first, that a prolonged and acute mental health crisis while in state detention can amount to degrading treatment for the purposes of Article 3 ECHR. And second, that the state is responsible when delays in the provision of psychiatric care to those in detention cause someone with mental health problems to descend into a crisis that is degrading and undignified.


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Irrational, inhuman and degrading: detention of a mentally ill asylum-seeker was unlawful

23 April 2012 by

R (on the application of HA (Nigeria)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 979 (Admin) – Read judgment

The detention of a mentally ill person in an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment and false imprisonment, and was irrational, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Singh heard a judicial review application by a Nigerian National against decisions to continue to detain him under the UK Borders Act 2007 and the conditions of that detention. From August 2009, HA, an overstaying visitor and asylum seeker, was detained at various IRCs following his release from prison for a drug-related offence which triggered the automatic deportation provisions of the 2007 Act. His behaviour during detention became increasingly disturbed and strange. In January 2010, he was seen by a psychiatrist who recommended HA’s transfer to a mental hospital for assessment and treatment.

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