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Supreme Court allows solitary confinement appeal

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Supreme Court allows solitary confinement appeal

14 October 2015

The Supreme Court has allowed an appeal against the decision of the Inner House regarding the legality of a period which a prisoner spent in solitary confinement (segregation).

In 2006, Imran Shahid was convicted of murder.  The circumstances of his murder were such that he was considered to be at risk from other prisoners.  He was placed in segregation for his own protection and remained there for 56 months.  He brought proceedings challenging the legality of his segregation on various bases.

The Prisons (Scotland) Rules 1989 together with the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2006 sets out the scheme which must be followed in order for lawful authority to be granted to segregate a prisoner.  On several occasions, the Scottish Ministers had granted an order to renew the segregation outwith the time limits set out in that scheme.  The Supreme Court interpreted the relevant rules as meaning that any period of segregation purportedly authorised by a late order were unlawful.  The need for those time limits to be strictly adhered was consistent with the purpose of the legislation, namely to provide a safeguard for the protection of the prisoner.

The Supreme Court rejected an argument that Mr Shahid’s period of segregation amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, contrary to article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  However, it concluded that the segregation had breached his right to a private life under article 8 of the Convention.  While he had been segregated in pursuance of a legitimate aim, his segregation was not carried out in accordance with law and was not proportionate, in particular, in the absence of a meaningful plan to bring the segregation to an end. 

The Supreme Court concluded that just satisfaction could be afforded by the making of a declaratory order, without the need to award damages.

The full judgment of the Supreme Court can be found here:

Members of Axiom Advocates appeared on both sides of the appeal, with Kenny McBrearty QC appearing on behalf of the appellant, Mr Shahid, and Gerry Moynihan QC appearing on behalf of the Scottish Ministers.