Solitary confinement of prisoners for extended periods ruled as unlawful

Supreme Court of United Kingdom: Deciding on appeals wherein the issues were whether the decisions to keep the appellant prisoners in solitary confinement or segregation for substantial periods were taken lawfully and whether the procedure followed met the requirements of fairness, the Court unanimously granted a declaration in each case that the appellant’s segregation beyond the initial period of 72 hours was not authorised by the Secretary of State and was accordingly unlawful. The Court further criticized the conduct of the prison officials of not providing reasons to the appellant prisoners for their continued segregation.

In the instant case, the first appellant was serving life sentence in HMP Whitemoore while the second appellant was serving life sentence at HMP Frankland. Both the appellant prisoners were kept in continued segregation after 72 hours. The decision of segregation was made under the Prison Act 1952, Rule 45 of the Prison Rules 1999 and “PSO 1700”, a non-statutory document issued by the Secretary of State. Paragraph (2) of Rule 45 provides that the prisoner shall not be segregated under the rule for more than 72 hours “without the authority of the Secretary of State” and that authority shall be given for a period not exceeding 14 days. The appellants contended that their segregation was ordered without lawful authority while it was argued on behalf of the Secretary of State that rule 45(2) permits Governors and other senior prison officers to take such decisions, when authorised to do so by the Secretary of State, and that such authority has been lawfully granted by the PSO.

After perusal of the facts and the relevant rules, Lord Reed observed that it is implicit in Rule 45(2) that the decision of the Secretary of State cannot be taken on his behalf by the Governor, or by some other officer of the prison in question. Thus, argument advanced on behalf of the Secretary of State that the expression “the Secretary of State”, in rule 45(2), implicitly includes the Governor and other officers of the prison, must also be rejected. The Court also emphasised that Rule 45(2) is intended to provide a safeguard for the prisoner against excessively prolonged segregation by the local prison management. R v. Secretary of State for Justice, 2015 UKSC 54, decided on 29.07.2015

 

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