Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Holyrood votes through law changes to prevent £50m ‘slopping out’ payout to prisoners

The Scottish parliament has voted through changes to the law which will save up to £50m in payouts to prisoners who are attempting to claim compensation for ‘slopping out’.

The Herald reports :

MSPs back move to avoid £50m payout to prisoners


Chief Scottish Political Correspondent May 06 2009

MSPs rubber-stamped legal changes yesterday to save up to £50m in payments to prisoners claiming compensation for slopping out.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill asked the Holyrood justice committee to approve fast-track legislation which could avoid future payouts.

Mr MacAskill appeared before the committee to seek approval for a one-year time limit to apply in any future cases where human rights claims are made under the Scotland Act.

Challenged on the fact that many in the legal community were uneasy about yesterday's move, Mr MacAskill said: "We have to act expeditiously. Rather than compound the agony that is felt in many communities by those receiving money yet serving sentences, we chose to move urgently. I think we deserve the right to protect the broader public interest."

More than 3700 claims have so far been settled at a cost of more than £11m, with hundreds more claims still in the pipeline.

Bill Aitken, Tory justice spokesman and convener of the committee, said: "This has been a disgraceful and embarrassing episode which has seen millions of pounds go to the most undeserving of beneficiaries, namely those who have preyed on Scotland's communities.

"The taxpayer has been ripped off but at least the matter is now being addressed and we must ensure that never again are we exposed to ridiculous claims of this type."

The new law being rushed through Holyrood and Westminster to stem the flood of claims involves an amendment to the Scotland Act.

The legal wrangle dates back to 2004 when Barlinnie prison inmate Robert Napier was awarded £2000 for the effects of slopping out and prison conditions on his health. That ruling triggered claims from hundreds of former and serving prisoners.

In 2007 the House of Lords test case ruled in a separate case involving segregation that if prisoners launched human rights actions under the Scotland Act, they were not covered by a one-year time limit which otherwise applied.

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