Month: October 2015

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.”

Notes
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.

6,110 children missing from care in a year

The Department for Education has released data for the first time on children missing from care. Across the year to 31 March 2015, the whereabouts were unknown of 6,110 children in the care of English local authorities. Since this is the first time such information has been collected from local authorities, the government advises readers to treat it with caution. The data indicates:

  • 6,110 children went missing a total of 28,570 times, an average of 4.7 times per child
  • The most common duration of time away was 1-2 days (accounting for 55% of the 28,570 incidents)
  • On 230 occasions, children went missing for more than 30 days
  • Secure units, children’s homes and hostels were the most common setting from which children were missing (accounting for 51% of the 28,570 incidents)
  • The vast majority of children missing from care were aged 10 and over, though 110 were aged under 10.

There were 99,230 children looked after in 2014/15: the percentage of those going missing at least once was 6%.

The data (Table G1) can be downloaded here.

Letter to adopted child is correspondence, nothing more

Mr Justice Peter Jackson has determined that letters from a birth mother to her child who was adopted as a toddler are a form of correspondence only, and not a manifestation of family connection or relationship.

The case, decided in the High Court last month, concerns a child who was born in 2008, to a 20-year-old mother. The mother had been in the care of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council since the age of 6. During her 10 years in care, she had 9 separate foster placements.

The council was concerned that the mother was not coping with caring for her new baby, so they were both placed in a residential assessment unit. This was “not a success” though they stayed there for 15 weeks. The local authority subsequently commenced care proceedings, and the child was placed, at 14/15 months old, with foster parents who later became her adoptive parents. The birth mother, Ms Seddon, was permitted two letters a year to the child; this was later reduced to one letter per annum because she continued to oppose the adoption.

This latest hearing concerned Ms Seddon’s right to respect for her private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Ms Seddon, who is no longer legally represented, sought to argue that the refusal of contact with her child was a breach of her rights. This was rejected. Citing several relevant judgments from UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights, Mr Justice Peter Jackson said:

A has two parents, not three. Family life between Ms Seddon and A came to an end with the adoption and has certainly not been recreated since then. A is now aged six and has not had contact with Ms Seddon for five years. There are no ties of any kind between them. There cannot be any interference with family life that does not exist.

Article 8 rights were judged to be involved in respect of letters from Ms Seddon to the young child. However, this was not because of their pre-existing relationship and biological connection. Having drawn an analogy with prison correspondence, where letters are similarly often the only means of possible communication, the judge observed:

I conclude that a public body running a post-adoption letterbox service is obliged under Art. 8 to respect correspondence between a birth parent and an adopted child and adopters, an obligation arising from the nature of the correspondence and not from the former parent-child relationship.

On Ms Seddon’s claim that the interference with her letter had been unlawful, he said:

No doubt most post-adoption correspondence is constructive and valued, but where it is not, adoptive parents and children should be protected from it. Moreover, the letterbox should not become a means of persuasion or pressure. I therefore reject the proposition that the Council has no right to redact Ms Seddon’s correspondence in a reasonable manner, or that it is obliged to pass on whatever she sends.

The council was found to have acted lawfully in redacting (crossing words out) parts of Ms Seddon’s letter.

In October 2010, Ms Seddon petitioned the European Court of Human Rights; her complaint was deemed inadmissable in July 2012. Her separate claim against Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, for its alleged delay in bringing her into care as a young child and not providing therapy to her, also failed. During those proceedings, Dr Peter Dale provided an independent social work assessment in support of post-adoption contact. One of the arguments he put forward for such contact was:

It is also likely one day that A will read the court papers concerning her history and her adoption. She will learn how vigorously her mother ‘fought’ to have her returned to her care, and how they were prevented from maintaining contact with each other. This could fuel her resentment and anger towards her adoptive family and be a disturbing experience for A, which could threaten her lifelong wellbeing.

Read the full judgment here.