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Juliet Lyon, Prison Reform Trust
"Overcrowding is so severe that it could constitute inhuman or degrading treatment"
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Home Affairs Correspondent Jon Silverman
"The Prison Reform Trust predicts a spate of legal cases"
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Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 08:16 GMT 09:16 UK
Prisons reject rights warning
Prison cell
Prisoners could make challenges over conditions
The Prison Service has rejected claims that it could be bombarded with legal action by inmates under new human rights acts which come in to force next month.

The Prison Reform Trust pressure group claims the Prison Service is likely to face "hundreds" of court battles under the Humans Right Act, which becomes law in England and Wales from 2 October.

The trust, which has set out examples of challenges it says the Prison Service can expect in a report called A Hard Act to Follow?, says overcrowding in British prisons is one of the main issues likely to be challenged.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, told the BBC's Today programme that, apart from the Probation Service, the Prison Service had done less than any other agency to prepare for the act.

'Inhumane and degrading'

She said: "Of the 66,000 people we have in prison, all but 23 will be coming out.

"Human rights does not stop at the prison gate and what we will see is a series of challenges under the act which will confront the Prison Service with some of the things they may want to do but are not yet able to deliver."

We welcome the act which we think is a landmark act but we have no intention of panicking

Martin Narey
She said the problem of overcrowding, for example, was so severe in some prisons it could constitute inhumane or degrading treatment - prohibited under Article three of the act.

The trust also says the rights of up to 12,000 prisoners could be being breached under Article 8 of the act, which gives people a fundamental right to family life, because they are in prisons which are more than 100 miles away from their families.

Other issues which need immediate attention, according to the trust, are the number of suicides and serious assaults in prison, and lengths of sentences.

One of the first cases likely to be heard is that of Home Secretary Jack Straw's powers to set final release date for inmates serving life, with the possibility of group action being brought on behalf of many prisoners.

Prison Service Director General Martin Narey
Martin Narey: Confident in current prison policies
In cases involving young offenders, Mr Straw has already been forced to hand over that power to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, following a European Court ruling.

Ms Lyon called on Prison Service Director General Martin Narey to address the issues urgently.

She said: "Given that he has committed to reform the service and given that it hasn't moved very far in the last ten years, it provides him with a marvellous opportunity to make the changes he wants to make."

But Prison Service Director General Martin Narey denied that the Prison Service was not ready for the challenges the Human Rights Act would bring.

"We welcome the act, which we think is a landmark act, but we have no intention of panicking.

"Over the past two years, the Prison Service has reviewed all its policies and practices.

"I am sure there will be some things we will have to change, but I don't think it's going to make a dramatic difference.

"I think it's key to remember that this act has applied and been part of Scottish law for the past year. A number of cases have been brought to the Scottish courts relating to prison matters. None have been successful."

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29 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Warning over rights act
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