Child prison restraint manual FOI appeal

Permission has been granted for an Upper Tribunal hearing on whether the manual governing the use of restraint on imprisoned children should be made public. A version of the manual was published by the Ministry of Justice in July 2012, with 182 redactions.

Within days of its publication, Article 39’s Director made a freedom of information request for a copy of the Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) manual without any redactions. Following the Ministry of Justice’s refusal, she appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which supported the government’s position that disclosure would threaten security in child and adult prisons. Then the First-Tier Tribunal said the likely risk to the security of adult prisons “was decisive” in its decision to support non-disclosure.

The Ministry of Justice had argued that violent adult prisoners could use the manual to subvert discipline, because there are “similarities” between the techniques authorised for child prisons and those which appear in the Use of Force manual for adult prisoners. When the MMPR manual was published in 2012, the then Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke referred to “a new system of restraint that has been specifically designed for use on young people in custody”.

The same arguments about prisoners developing restraint counter-techniques had been used in the past to prevent publication of the Physical Control in Care (PCC) manual, which governed restraint in secure training centres until 2012. That manual was forced into the public domain in October  2010, after a three-year FOI battle. Given the passage of time since the release of the PCC manual, it was reasonable to expect evidence to be presented of prisoners studying its pages and subverting discipline as a result, if such evidence existed.

Last month, Willow’s case went before Judge Kate Markus QC, who has granted permission for it to be heard by the Upper Tribunal. Acting on behalf of Willow, Ian Wise QC, from Monckton Chambers, argued that the First-Tier Tribunal had erred in law because all of the evidence had been in support of disclosure and the Ministry of Justice had not substantiated any of its claims. Secondly, Wise argued that the First-Tier Tribunal failed to consider Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in coming to its decision. This requires that the child’s best interests are treated as a primary consideration in all actions concerning the child.

The MMPR manual was developed by the Ministry of Justice following the restraint-related deaths of two children, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, in secure training centres run by G4S and Serco. Fifteen year-old Gareth died from positional asphyxia after he was held down by three officers using the ‘seated double embrace’ restraint technique. The so-called ‘nose distraction’, a severe swipe to the nose, was inflicted on 14 year-old Adam hours before he hanged himself. He left behind a note asking what gave officers the right to hit a child in the nose. Both restraint methods were subsequently withdrawn, and inquests into the two boys’ deaths severely criticised the lack of independent scrutiny of the techniques used on them.

Carolyne Willow says:

“This FOI request is about the protection of society’s most vulnerable children in the most hidden of all closed institutions. We learned many years ago, when the first revelations of abuse in residential care led to scores of inquiries and investigations, that secrecy endangers children. The deaths of Gareth and Adam, and the subsequent admissions of widespread unlawful restraint, should have led ministers to commit to transparency forever more.”

1. Ian Wise QC is representing Carolyne Willow pro bono. The FOI request was made nearly three years before Article 39 was formed.

2. The MMPR restraint techniques have been approved for use on children aged 12 to 17. Rainsbrook secure training centre, where Gareth Myatt died, was the first prison to transfer to MMPR, from April 2013. All three of the secure training centres use MMPR, and three of the five young offender institutions in England and Wales use it. The remaining two – Feltham and Parc – are expected to adopt MMPR early in 2016.

3. One-third of the restraint techniques in the MMPR manual involve officers deliberately inflicting pain on children, according to a 2011 report by the Restraint Advisory Board. Chaired by Professor Dame Sue Bailey, the Board provided independent scrutiny (though not accreditation) of the restraint methods proposed for child prisons by the Ministry of Justice’s National Tactical Response Group in the National Offender Management Service. One of the Board’s criticisms of the new MMPR techniques was that the National Tactical Response Group – colloquially known as the prison riot squad – had not been asked to devise a system without the deliberate infliction of pain. In 2013, the UN Committee Against Torture urged the UK to stop using the deliberate infliction of pain as a form of restraint in child prisons. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has also condemned the practice.

4. Carolyne Willow’s book, Children Behind Bars, was published by Policy Press earlier this year. It is the first publication of its kind to expose the many harms of child imprisonment, and includes in-depth interviews with four mothers whose sons died in child prisons, including the mothers of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood.

5. The Upper Tribunal hearing will take place in London sometime between mid-December 2015 and February 2016.