Corona Virus and Prisons

FASO SUPPORT

In these unprecedented times, I put out an urgent request for you to email your MP/ministers with the following message, in an attempt to stop or minimise the possible dire consequences to part of the prison population. Margaret FASO 19.3.20

(See elsewhere for the FASO response to the elderly health care in prison consultation)

Dear MP /Minister

In the current COVID-19 crisis it is imperative that prisoners are not excluded from the nationwide emphasis on reducing risk for vulnerable people who have been identified as the most likely to suffer serious symptoms or die from the virus. In particular, those most vulnerable have been identified to be the over 70s and those with underlying health conditions. Accordingly, we request that appropriate Cat B/C/D elderly and vulnerable prisoners who meet these criteria are released to their families or other suitable environments where their health can be more suitably protected and/or treated.

The vast majority of vulnerable and especially elderly prisoners are of no realistic danger to society yet their continued incarceration during the current pandemic, often in overcrowded conditions which could cause rapid transmission of the virus, is extremely dangerous for their health and those around them such as prison staff.

Please raise this matter urgently with the relevant Ministers.

Thank you”

CRIMINAL COURTS

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/courts-during-coronavirus-pandemic-robert-buckland-statement

1 Courts during coronavirus pandemic: Robert Buckland statement

Please see below for a selection of key paragraphs from the statement (link above):

“I recognise the impact that this will have on those witnesses and victims who will have to wait longer to see justice delivered in their cases. We will also make arrangements to extend custody time limits for defendants held on remand in these cases.”

“Crown Court trials will be able to continue despite this restriction. Those cases that have a trial date delayed will be heard at the earliest available opportunity.”

“Our Crown and Magistrates courts provide a vital public service and until instructed otherwise, we expect all lawyers, magistrates, jurors, witnesses, defendants and court staff to continue to attend court as required, so the interests of justice can be served.”

2 Coronavirus (COVID-19) update from the Lord Chief Justice

17 March 2020 |News|COVID-19

Please see below for a selection of key paragraphs from the statement (link above):

“Given the rapidly evolving situation, there is an urgent need to increase the use of telephone and video technology immediately to hold remote hearings where possible. Emergency legislation is being drafted which is likely to contain clauses that expand the powers in criminal courts to use technology in a wider range of hearings. The Civil Procedure Rules and Family Procedure Rules provide for considerable flexibility.”

“Our immediate aim is to maintain a service to the public, ensure as many hearings in all jurisdictions can proceed and continue to deal with all urgent matters.”

PRISONS

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-covid-19-prison-preparedness-lucy-frazer-statement

3. A paragraph from the statement by Minster of State Lucy Frazer QC MP regarding prison preparedness for the current pandemic (link above):

“We understand that prisoners and their loved ones might be concerned about the situation. But we can assure them that we will continue to operate normal regimes, with the minimum disruption, for as long as we can. This will include visits to prisoners but, in line with Public Health advice for the general public, we urge any friend or family member not to come to a prison for visit if they have any symptoms associated with COVID-19 – a fever or new, persistent cough. We are also looking into ways to keep prisoners in close contact with their families in all eventualities, and will share further information as and when necessary.”

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-and-prisons

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and prisons

The above link contains information under the following headings:

  1. Coronavirus in prisons: confirmed cases
  2. Prisons and coronavirus: the latest situation
  3. Visiting prisons during the coronavirus outbreak
  4. Other ways to get in touch with prisoners during the coronavirus outbreak
  5. How we will update you about the impact of coronavirus on prisons
  6. If you have urgent concerns about someone in prison during the coronavirus outbreak

Please see below for a key paragraph:

“We understand that visitors and prisoners may have particular concerns about visits during this period. If you are planning a visit, it is essential that you read this guidance and stay at home if it applies to you. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

NEW EMERGENCY BILL FOR THE COUNTRY

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-bill-what-it-will-do/what-the-coronavirus-bill-will-do

4. Coroner virus bill – Temporary legislation above

Serious Crime Victims Wait Longer for Justice After Court Days Cut

Victims of serious crime now wait almost a year-and-a-half for the suspects to go on trial while judges sit “idle” after the government cut their sitting days – despite Guardian analysis finding almost half of all crown courtrooms in England and Wales are empty each day. Government statistics show that the average crown court case takes 525 days to go from offence to completion, up 34% from 392 days in 2010. The delay begins with the police, who have had their numbers cut by 20,600 since 2010. Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics show that overwhelmed forces now take an average of 331 days from the date of the offence to charge someone with a crime that will see them tried at a crown court, up from 205 days in 2010.

The suspects then wait longer for their cases to be tried in court because the government has been reducing the number of sitting days for crown court judges as part of cost-cutting measures at the MoJ. Allocations fell from 97,400 in 2018-19 to 82,300 in 2019-20, according to the senior presiding judge, Lady Justice Macur. Judges are still paid the same annual salary but find themselves idle behind the scenes, unable to hear the mountain of cases piling up. The Guardian analysed the listings for all crown courts in England and Wales on one day in December and found that of the 729 available courtrooms showing on the government’s Xhibit system, which relays hearing information, 350 were not sitting.

Read more: Guardian, https://is.gd/h9BCOh

Home Office Overhauls Police Complaints and Discipline Process

The changes ensure that complaints can be dealt with quickly, effectively and proportionately. On Friday 10 January the Home Office is introducing legislation that will shake up how complaints made against the police are handled and improve the discipline system for officers. The changes, which will come into effect on 1 February, ensure that complaints can be dealt with quickly, effectively and proportionately, not just for the benefit of the public but also for the police. As well as simplifying the complaints system, the changes mean Police and Crime Commissioners will have a greater role to increase independence and improve complaints handling.

Read more: Home Office, https://is.gd/PdAXQ0

Police Officer Jailed for Lying About Uxbridge Child Sex Assault

A police constable who falsely accused a council street cleaner of sexually assaulting a child after an argument about cleaning up his garden hedges has been jailed for three years. PC Hitesh Lakhani, 42, called the police stating he had witnessed a man beckon a child of around five years old into some bushes while her mother walked ahead on a residential street in Uxbridge on 5 September, 2018. He claimed to have seen the man pull his shorts down and place the little girl’s hand on him, before her mother noticed she was missing and called out to her, allowing her to escape. Lakhani said he confronted the offender and took a photograph of him. He presented the photo to police when they arrived to take a statement from him. The image was circulated across Hillingdon police’s social media feeds in order to identify the culprit of the alleged assault. It called on the public to contact Crimestoppers if they recognised the man. Upon further investigation by the police, CCTV evidence from a neighbouring house proved the sexual assault could not have happened.

Read more: CPC, https://is.gd/4Cvaf5

Police Reject Judge’s Call To Apologise Over Wrongful Conviction

Police have refused to apologise to a man wrongly jailed for 25 years because officers lied at his trial, even after the now-retired appeal court judge who quashed the conviction told the Guardian that the force should say sorry. Cheshire police said that while they were “concerned” at the wrongful jailing of Paul Blackburn, who was convicted as a teenager in 1978 for the attempted murder and sexual assault of a young boy, no apology was needed as procedures at the time of the investigation were “very different”. Blackburn, then in a reform school in Warrington, Cheshire, was arrested shortly after he turned 15. The only notable evidence against him was a confession he signed after four hours of questioning by two senior officers, with no parent or lawyer present. The appeal court, which quashed the conviction in 2005, two years after Blackburn was released on license, said the police claim he wrote the confession unaided “can now be seen to have been untrue” after linguistic analysis showed it was littered with police jargon almost certainly unknown to a poorly-educated teenager. The ruling said this cast doubt on other police claims.

Read more: Peter Walker, Guardian, https://is.gd/FuDeaO

Prison Staff Misconduct Investigations Rise By Third

Investigations into alleged misconduct by prison staff have risen by a third in a year, figures have revealed. More than 2,500 charges were investigated in 2018-19, up from 1,894 the previous year. Alleged “breach of security” – which can include bringing contraband into jails – and use of “unnecessary” force contributed to the rise. The Prison Service said action was taken against the “small minority that engaged in inappropriate behaviour”. Mick Pimblett, assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), blamed some of the rises on inexperienced staff and a lack of training. There were 2,511 investigations into alleged misconduct by 1,286 prison staff in England and Wales in 2018-19, according to figures obtained by BBC Radio Kent. Prior to that the number of investigations had been falling. In the same time, 529 staff were disciplined, with 112 recommended for dismissal. Nearly 500 investigations into allegations of “breach of security” in prisons took place in the year ending March 2019.

AGM bites

It was also announced that a new outreach support group was to be initiated on a trial basis.  It is to be held in London, for those still suffering from stress of their false allegations.  Those who wish to attend this small group can find out if it is suitable for them by contacting, by email, the Secretary at support@false-allegations.org.uk, where they will be given details of the future events, should it be suitable for them. The next meeting will be in London on Monday 9th Dec 2019.

As decided at the FASO AGM, held in Cardiff in Sept 2019, Margaret Gardener will take up her new role as Chief Executive Officer of FASO (CEO) and oversee all aspects of FASO – whilst two new Directors will be heading the Criminal and Family phases of the work.

It is with sadness our prison visiting service at HMP Isle of Wight has had to close after 10 years’ service, due to the retirement of our two voluntary leaders on the Island.