Following a 2-day trial at Cambridge County Court, Judge Yelton dismissed a claim for in excess of £60,000 in damages (plus further claims for aggravated and exemplary damages) from the Ministry of Justice. The claim was brought by a Category B prisoner serving a life sentence for attempted murder. He claimed that for the period of his imprisonment at HMP Whitemoor he suffered discrimination, harassment and victimisation contrary to the Equality Act 2010 and also that his rights under art. 8, art. 14 and A1P1 of the ECHR had been unlawfully interfered with. He claimed, in particular, that prison officials had:
- prevented him from contacting his partner in Pakistan at a time when it was likely that she was going to be murdered in an ‘honour killing’ in Lahore in 2014;
- connived to charge him more than other prisoners for placing telephone calls to Pakistan on the prison’s phone system;
- prevented him from using his personal bank account to transfer money to individuals in Pakistan to facilitate his partner’s escape from house-arrest;
- routinely intercepted and read his privileged Rule 39 correspondence and failed to post any of his privileged outgoing mail; and
- frustrated his attempts to contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Home Office and a firm of solicitors involved in seeking his partner’s safe return to the UK.
The claim was made in the context of what the claimant described as a culture of harassment, intimidation and discrimination of prisoners of the Muslim faith at HMP Whitemoor, and in particular those (like the claimant) who were not UK nationals and whose first language was not English. The claimant argued that this culture had arisen as a result of the attempts to stem the tide of radical Islamic practices amongst Muslim prisoners at the facility (as reported in national media and the BBC’s Panorama TV show).
The Judge rejected all of the claimant’s allegations. He accepted the evidence of the Prison’s Deputy Governor to the effect that there was no evidence at all to suggest that the matters that the claimant complained of had been linked, in any way, to his protected characteristics. He held that the prison staff had acted in accordance with national prison policy at all times, in order to promote the objectives of security at the facility, and that the claimant had been mistaken in many of his grounds of claim. He therefore dismissed the claim and ordered the claimant to pay the Ministry of Justice £20,000 in costs.
George Mackenzie, who is on the Attorney-General’s C-Panel of Junior Counsel to the Crown, acted for the Ministry of Justice and was instructed by Victoria Harper-Ward at the Government Legal Department. In addition to his principal practice in the areas of planning, rating and compulsory purchase, George is pleased to accept instructions in more general public law matters such as this one.