Despite a deal being announced between Edinburgh & Westminster to close the time bar on prisoner’s ‘slopping out’ claims to one year, members of the legal profession are warning the deal could breach prisoner’s human rights, and may end up costing a few million pounds more to put right … (and so say a few lawyers miffed at not getting their hands on more taxpayers money – Ed)
The Scotsman reports :
Published Date: 20 March 2009
By David Maddox
Scottish Political Correspondent
ONE of Scotland's top QCs has warned that moves to prevent prisoners suing for having their human rights breached could end up costing taxpayers millions more.
The Scottish and UK governments yesterday announced they had reached an agreement to close a loophole in the Scotland Act to stop prisoners from claiming compensation for slopping out.
But Paul McBride, the vice-chairman of the Faculty of Advocates and a member of the Legal Aid Board, said the proposal to put in a one-year bar was "legally dubious".
The one-year bar, which exists south of the Border through the Human Rights Act, stops claims being made more than 12 months after the alleged human rights breach.
Scotland does not have this protection because it was left out of the Scotland Act 1998.
The proposal agreed by the administrations in Holyrood and Westminster would allow MSPs to amend the Scotland Act.
But Mr McBride said: "I think that is legally very dubious. You cannot just turn off somebody's human rights.
"We are talking here about four people being forced to share a cell designed for one and having no privacy to defecate.
"In my view, there will be challenges to this change, and this will cost the public purse even more in legal fees and legal aid.
They could have put in gold-plated toilets already for the money they have paid out."
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said there would be no proposed changes to the law unless the administration was confident about the legality.
Mr McBride also joined criticism of Alex Salmond after he stated during First Minister's Questions that his government would try to reclaim board and lodgings from compensated prisoners. It costs an estimated £40,000 a year to keep each prisoner locked up and compensation on slopping out has averaged £2,000.
"Again this is legally highly dubious," said Mr McBride. "Even if the Scottish Government succeeded in this claim, the tiny amount recovered would be dwarfed by the cost to the taxpayer for legal aid and the Scottish Government's own costs."
Another leading Scottish advocate, John Scott, chairman of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland, said Mr Salmond "was failing to show sufficient leadership" on the issue and should explain why a prisoner would be singled out for board and lodgings because he had received compensation.
He said claims for board and lodgings only successfully applied to people who had been victims of miscarriages of justice, who had it deducted from their compensation.
He also raised concerns about the one-year bar, saying: "If it succeeds, it could block cases (that] are more deserving."