HMP Peterhead

In the petitions for judicial review raised on behalf of clients of Taylor & Kelly, Lady Dorrian has issued a judgement. Read it here.

Lady Dorrian has held there to be violations of prisoner’s human rights by virtue of them having to slop out their porta-potties or chemical toilets at HM Prison Peterhead.  She has awarded damages to each of the petitioners affected by this in the sum of £500.

The Scottish Prison Service gave various indications over the years that something would be done about HM Prison Peterhead.  There were various justifications for the delay.  One of the justifications was that HM Prison Peterhead was a centre of excellence for work with sex-offenders.  The Government commissioned a report from Professor Alec Spencer.  He concluded that the excellent work on rehabilitation could be carried out effectively throughout Scotland’s jails:

“…creating an improved facility, compared with the physical conditions which currently pertain at Peterhead, will enhance the chances of the new centre for addressing the offending behaviours of sex offenders even higher standards.”

In essence, there was no justification for continuing to house Scotland’s prisoners in conditions which breached minimum human rights.

Professor Tony Kelly of leading human rights firm Taylor & Kelly said today:

“The outcome of these cases represents yet another damning indictment of the conditions within Scotland’s prisons.  Considerable sums have been expended on prisons since the last Government defeat on slopping out: Napier. As the rest of Scotland’s prisons were refurbished, and new prisons built, the group for whom the public has the least sympathy were largely ignored.  The result today represents a vindication of the stance taken by prisoners about breaches of their human rights.  It is an excellent outcome for each of these petitioners and for the many hundreds of petitioners whose cases have been frozen to await its outcome.”

Scope of Analysis

The evidence before the Court went into considerable detail about the precise conditions of detention of each of the 3 petitioners in this case.  The individual cellular conditions were looked at, including the cell size, lighting, ventilation, hygiene and toileting.

This cellular confinement was looked at in the context of the overall regime in Peterhead prison.  The prisoners have access to rehabilitative programmes, education, recreation and work parties.

The procedure for slopping out of porta-potties, which were kept within individual cells for urination and defecation, was looked at in considerable detail.  This has changed over the years.  The prior arrangement was for prisoners to empty their own porta-potties.  They queued up along prison halls.  There were spillages.  They had to pour their waste products down a communal sluice.  The situation has improved over the years.  A team of prisoners is now selected to carry out this task for other prisoners.

The effect of being detained in the primitive conditions was a matter looked at in evidence before the Court.  This canvassed, with reference to psychological evidence, the coping mechanisms developed by persons when detained in a small, cramped, gloomy environment housing activities within one confined space such as sleeping, eating (meals were taken in cells), toileting and spare time.  In contrast to homes and offices, where separate places are developed for separate activities, the inability of a prisoner to develop different spaces was said to be an additional stressor, potentially causing psychological disturbance.

Two learned architects gave evidence about the physical conditions and endeavoured to compare them – where possible – to analogous constructions in society at large.  Given that the building was constructed in the 1880’s it was entirely unsurprising that the architects concluded that the cells within HM Prison Peterhead were barely fit for human habitation today and certainly could not be constructed today in satisfaction of, or compliance with, building regulations for residential use.

The Court also benefited from evidence from learned experts in the field of penology, including academics and members of august international bodies expert in the field of prison conditions.

Before the Court of Session submissions were made on behalf of the petitioners in respect of the history of HM Prison Peterhead, focussing particularly upon its increasing incongruity within the SPS estate throughout the 1990’s and into the new millennium.

The international unacceptability of, amongst other things, inadequate access to proper sanitation as an integral part of a humane environment has long been recognised.  There was unequivocal condemnation of impoverished conditions of detention and a consistent recognition of this in various domestic and international reports.  In the face of this however, (in contrast to England and Wales) Scotland did nothing about improving the conditions of imprisonment and most especially, for a very long time indeed, did nothing to improve the Spartan facilities at HM Prison Peterhead.  The Scottish Prison Service recognised as far back as 1997 that Peterhead prison could not be improved and had to be demolished.  Notwithstanding that recognition, politicians of various hues dallied, then decided, then changed their mind about what to do about HM Prison Peterhead.  All the while prisoners in HM Prison Peterhead – recognised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland as a group for whom the public have the least sympathy – paid the price for the politicians’ indecision.  Whilst politicians may be in a position to try to explain their thought processes for various decisions and changes of mind, the reason why each of the particular petitioners who featured in the test or illustrative cases came to be detained in the appalling conditions of detention was a direct result of the choices, indecision, omissions and policies which the Court decision calls them to account for.

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