19 March 2009

Slopping out

I have no particular wish to see prisoners and ex-prisoners receiving public funds in compensation for slopping out, at least no more than strictly necessary. But I do see some problems with the actions proposed by Westminster and Holyrood in this case. The BBC reports:
A deal has been struck between the UK and Scottish governments which will stop criminals receiving compensation for slopping out.
Thousands of prisoners have made backdated claims that their human rights were breached by being denied proper toilet facilities in jail.
Emergency laws are to be rushed through Westminster and Holyrood to introduce a one-year time bar for such claims.
If human rights legislation means anything at all, then it must apply in relation to those who are - arguably - the least deserving. In this case, the governments concerned appear to be proposing a restriction on the human rights of a certain class of individuals by denying them legal redress. In particular, prisoners and ex-prisoners who might be in a position to seek compensation as a result of having endured slopping out more than a year ago and who have not yet submitted a claim should be banned from doing so. The alleged justification for taking such action is to save public money.

There are three aspects to what is proposed that give rise to concern. The first is the question of retrospection. In effect, the governments appear to be saying to the prisoners concerned that at least one element of the human rights they thought they had under the Scotland Act (and confirmed by the House of Lords) has (magically) disappeared. Is it fair and reasonable to deprive - after the event - individuals of a right they quite legitimately possessed?

Secondly, does rushing bills through Holyrood and Westminster, presumably without allowing adequate time for consultation with the legal and prison authorities as well as with those representing the interests of prisoners and ex-prisoners, constitute a sensible way to proceed? I appreciate that, from the point of view of the governments, there is a certain amount of urgency involved but previous precedents of rushed legislation are not encouraging. And individuals who will be disadvantaged by legislation are surely entitled to be fully consulted in advance about it.

Thirdly, I understand that the proposed legislation will not apply to those prisoners and ex-prisoners who have already made claims (or will have made claims by a certain date). This is essentially unfair - it cannot be right that those who have made claims are allowed to proceed while those that have yet to do so - for whatever reason - may not.

I appreciate that many of my readers will ask "who cares about a bunch of criminals?" And I have some sympathy with such views. But criminals do not relinquish their human status when they commit a crime or enter prison (however much some parts of society may wish it were so). And if the proposed legislation is in due course struck down by British or ECHR courts, then we will all be crying in our beer. Furthermore the fact that equivalent English prisoners are already time-barred is irrelevant, as they never had the open-ended right to seek compensation in the first place.

It's all very difficult. You can go back into the history of the issue but, like it or not, we are where we are. Like Ministers, I do not like the situation into which they have been thrust - but I am far from sure that the magic wand they propose to wave at the problem will make it go away.


half marathon man said...

Excellent blog. What is being proposed is a disgrace and typical of governments' pick and mix attitude to human rights. The government in Scotland has had years to sort out slopping out and has steadfastly refused to do so.

subrosa said...

There has to be a hiatus to change HC. How do you suggest it's done. I realise it's a difficult area in this Human Rights Act (which I feel badly needs updating) but change is needed and as long as it's undertaken legally, I see no problem.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, HW. I was beginning to wonder if you'd won the lottery and were dropping-in to do the odd blog of semi-relevance only when you could pull youself away from the beach, the cocktail bar, or exotic cocktail waitresses. I hope we will see a permanent return to more of this thoughtful stuff.

Campaign for Plain English said...

What on earth is a hiatus to change, sub rosa?

spider8 said...

You are in prison to be punished for crimes, that's bad enough, it is liberty that the prisoner loses, taken away from wife and children, loss of freedom. Slopping out is degrading and far from hygienic, how would you like to be in a cell where someone had deficated in a plastic pot and you need to try and sleep in that same cell and remain in that tiny space with no ventilation and a tiny window for up to 12 hours. That is mental torture!! How would you like to need to do that in front of someone and have the threat of violence for forcing that person to live with the smell you created, people get slashed or beaten for this. I know people this has happened to (both ways) I know of people who contracted std's from pots to urinate in because they were not cleaned properly. It is the same pots for urine and faeces that are used time and time again, it's not one per person and they get binned after that person leaves, they get put in a store room, sometimes cleaned, sometimes not, then given to the next person. As for the proposed time bar i think that is nothing short of ridiculous, it either happened or it didn't, simple as that, does it really matter how much time has passed?? So much for law, what is law when the government can just change it to suit themself? I did slop out and i didn't claim when i could, reason being - i want nothing from them then i owe them nothing.