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How the Human Rights Act Protects Prisoners with Mental Health Issues

The UK prison system has been a hot topic this week following a three-day rooftop protest by one of the inmates at HMP Manchester.  

Jail Bars

Whatever the reasons for this particular protest, there is no doubt that the prison system is feeling the effects of staff reductions and budget cuts. Many commentators argue that the system is failing and that reform is well overdue.

The current prison population in England and Wales is approximately 81,780 and a high proportion of prisoners are suffering from mental illness.

It’s a trite argument that those who fall foul of the law do not deserve our concern. Deprivation of liberty does not mean suspension of basic human rights. It’s all too easy to ignore what goes on behind closed doors. Sadly, according to the latest annual report of the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman for England and Wales, there was a 64% increase in self-inflicted deaths in custody from the previous year.

Prisoners and Human Rights

Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights enshrines the right to life. When an individual dies in state custody there is a duty to investigate the circumstances and what lessons if any can be learnt to prevent future deaths.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers were recently instructed by the family of Craig Chappell in respect of the inquest investigating his suicide whilst serving a sentence at HMP Humber. Craig’s family had expressed concerns to the prison about his mental state on numerous occasions and were extremely distressed to learn of his subsequent suicide.

He was just 35 years old at the time of his death.

The inquest was heard at Kingston-upon-Hull Coroner’s Court and concluded earlier this month. Mr Taimour Lay of Garden Court Chambers was instructed to represent the family. After hearing all the evidence, a jury found that some system failures at HMP Humber contributed to Craig’s suicide.

Following this conclusion, Coroner Rosemary Baxter directed a Regulation 28 Report to Prevent Further Deaths to the Governor of HMP Humber. She expressed a number of areas of concern including the lack of a formal mechanism for communicating family concerns to relevant decision-making professionals and adequate information sharing.

Whilst the conclusion of the inquest does little to recompense the family, it does cast light on the need to improve safety in custody in a very public forum. It is as a direct impact of the Human Rights Act that the state is called to investigate the circumstances of such deaths and it is an important mechanism to safeguard those who are most vulnerable.

Rachel Seaward is a Trainee Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

For a free consultation about a human rights issue in England or Wales, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.

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