British Supreme Court Rules Against Unlawful Use of Prolonged Solitary Confinement

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed down a ruling this week against the use of prolonged solitary confinement without mandatory external review.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed down a ruling this week against the use of prolonged solitary confinement without mandatory external review.

Britain’s highest court has ruled that putting individuals in solitary confinement for an extended period of time without external review is unlawful.

The appellants Kamel Bourgass and Tanvir Hussain were both wrongfully held in solitary for more than six months because the process lacked oversight, the UK Supreme Court ruled.

“The decisions to continue the segregation of the two appellants were taken without lawful authority, and … their segregation beyond the initial 72 hours was therefore unlawful,” the court said in the unanimous ruling.

Legislation governing prison rules in Britain requires that decisions to hold someone in segregation longer than three days must be made by the Secretary of State for Justice and not by prison officials.  The Court noted that the rules are designed to provide a safeguard against excessively prolonged segregation by prison staff and that this protection can only be effective if the oversight is external to the prison.

The appellants’ also filed a human rights claim of procedural fairness under the European Convention on Human Rights, but this was dismissed.

Bourgass and Hussain were both put in solitary after being accused of assaults on other individuals.   Both were alleged to have bullied others in prison over their faith, claims the men deny. Prison officials claimed it was necessary to separate them from other prisoners “for good order and discipline.”

Bourgass was detained in segregation at Her Majesty’s Prison Whitemoor prison from March 10 to April 22, 2010 and after being released for a day was sent back until October of that year. Hussain was in segregation at HMP Frankland prison from April 24 to October 2010.

While in solitary, the men were locked in their cells for 23 hours per day and were not allowed contact with other prisoners.  Exercise was restricted to a solitary caged area and they were not allowed physical visits with visitors.

The court heard substantive evidence about the effect of segregation on individuals. The ruling cited a report published in June 2015 by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales that found that 28 prisoners died of suicide while being held in solitary between January 2007 March 2014.

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