Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lawyers lose out on rich pickings as slopping out deal ends payouts loophole to prisoners

A deal has been reached between the Scottish Government and Westminster to end the loophole which allowed lawyers to go round Scottish prisons looking for clients who felt their human rights had been breached because they did not have access to toilet facilities.

Well, thats a few million saved for the taxpayer, or perhaps the Scottish Government will just find another way to waste it somehow …

The Herald reports (as tears roll down the eyes of certain lawyers – Ed)

Deal struck to close slopping-out claims loophole

New laws are to be rushed through Westminster to block a flood of human rights cases by Scots prisoners over slopping-out, it was announced today.

Thousands of inmates have claimed their rights have been breached because they were denied toilet facilities in jail.

More than £67 million has been set aside for payouts after the House of Lords ruled that a 12-month time-bar on backdated claims did not apply in Scotland.

Now moves to close the loophole have been agreed after talks between officials in London and Edinburgh.

Scots Secretary Jim Murphy said: "I met with the First Minister last week and he asked for help to fix this.

"We will rush new laws through the Commons and the Lords to give new temporary powers to the Scottish Parliament to close this loophole.

"I would expect every party to work together to make sure this happens."

The deal follows talks between the Ministry of Justice, the Scotland Office, and the Scottish Government, and follows a public appeal to Westminster last week by the justice minister, Kenny MacAskill.

He asked for cooperation in passing urgent legislation to solve a problem posed by a House of Lords ruling in 2007.

This meant prisoners who sued the Scottish Government under the Scotland Act for human rights breaches did not have to do so within the 12 month time-limit that applies elsewhere in the UK.

The ruling opened the door to a flood of cases, mainly from prisoners who claimed slopping out when they were doubled in up cells was a human rights breach.

Mr MacAskill told Parliament last week that £67 million has to be set aside to meet claims, of which £11.2 million has already been paid out, and new claims were coming in at the rate of 200 a month.

Changing the law could save about £50 million which could be put to better use, he said.

A Scotland Office spokesman said: "The UK Government will bring forward an order almost immediately to allow the Scottish Parliament to make a change in the law."

That change would introduce a 12 month time limit for human rights actions launched against Scottish ministers.

Solicitor Tony Kelly, who was involved in many of the cases, accused the Scottish Government of being "sore losers."

The provisions in the Scotland Act enabling the human rights cases to be launched had not been placed there by accident, he told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland.

And having lost the House of Lords case ministers were now complaining, said Mr Kelly.

"Basically they are sore losers, trying to get a change" he said.

"That would not happen in any other course of litigation, where a loser can run and seek to reverse the outcome."

Mr Kelly also argued that the change being sought would affect not just claims by prisoners but by anyone claiming human rights breaches.

"That's important, because it loosens the respect for convention rights that was tied in to the Scotland Act," he said.

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