The High Court of Justice has ruled that the National Offender Management Service had failed to comply with disability and race laws in its treatment of foreign national prisoners.
The ruling sends a clear message to all public authorities of their requirement to comply with race, disability and gender discrimination laws, says the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) today.
The Commission took Judicial Review proceedings against the prison authority after it implemented a policy of transferring foreign prisoners to new facilities without consideration of the impact the move would have on disabled or ethnic minority prisoners. This is despite widespread documentation by the prison inspectorate about the significant discrimination and disadvantage faced by disabled and ethnic minority foreign prisoners.
Public organisations, such as hospitals, councils and prisons, are required by law to undertake assessments of how their policies will affect disabled people, ethnic minorities and women to ensure that any existing or new policies will not further disadvantage these groups.
The judge rejected arguments from the National Offender Management Service claiming that it had undertaken formal equality impact assessments in advance of implementing the policy. Instead, the Court found that the prison service had failed to carry out formal assessments of any kind and it had failed to take account of processes suggested in the statutory codes of practice. The Judge described the prison service’s reasons for failing to comply with discrimination law as “unconvincing”.
After the Equality and Human Rights Commission initiated proceedings, the prison authority undertook retrospective equality impact assessments, which the Court said satisfied the law.
Kay Carberry, speaking for the Commissioners at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, commented: “This sends a clear message to all public authorities that they have an obligation under the law to consider the impact of their decisions in relation to gender, disabled people and ethnic minorities. The prison service, as with all public authorities, is required by law to be proactive in its approach and to undertake equality impact assessments in advance of policies being implemented."
She continued: "The prison service, as with all public authorities, is expected to take the lead in this area and not wait for legal action before seeking to comply with the law."
“We expect the prison authority to monitor the impact of the policy to make sure that foreign national prisoners are treated in the same way and have the same access to supports and rehabilitation courses as all other prisoners.
“Britain should be leading by example if we are to expect British citizens held in prisons in democratic countries to be treated under the same laws as local citizens,” concluded EHRC's Carberry.