Prisoners to see Cat A reports

On 1 September 2003 the High Court ruled that high security Category A prisoners have a right under the Data Protection Act to obtain copies of the reports used to determine whether they should have their status lowered to Category B.

The challenge was brought by Alan Lord, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1981, who has been kept in top security conditions in revenge for his participation in the 1990 uprising at Strangeways prison in Manchester.

Category A prisoners are housed in a small number of prisons, never told when they are to be transferred, their movements and actions recorded, their visitors vetted by the police, and subject to countless other restrictions.

Every year each Category A prisoner’s status is reviewed either by the faceless ‘Category A Committee’ – mainly governors of high security prisons – or the even more faceless ‘Category A Team’ – civil servants who just rubber-stamp prison staff recommendations.

To put their case to the Committee/Team, prisoners received only a ‘gist’ (summary) of their reports; previous legal attempts to get the full reports having failed. In Alan Lord’s case, the judge found that the gist did not summarise the reports. While three of the six reports did say Alan should remain Category A, one gave no opinion, and two said he should be Category B. Yet the gist was written as though all agreed he should stay Category A. The judge described the system as Kafkaesque and ruled that Alan should be provided with the reports in full.

This means that in future, prisoners will receive the full reports, unless the Prison Service can genuinely argue that the information would compromise security if disclosed. And some prisoners, including Alan himself, have suddenly been re-classified as Category B!

Copies of the judgment are available from the Prisoners Advice Service, Unit 210 Hatton Square, 16 Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7RJ.

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

 

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