Crime & the Law

Supreme Court: challenge on young offenders’ solitary confinement

Today, [Wednesday 20 January] the Supreme Court heard an appeal to determine whether the conditions of a 15-year-old child detained at the Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution breached Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Credit: UK Supreme Court

Article 3 of the ECHR stipulates that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In this case the child, legally referred to as AB, was placed under the “single unlock regime” from the time of his arrival and for the first 55 days of his detention.

In this appeal brought forward by the Howard League of Penal Reform, the court will look at “the meaning of solitary confinement” and if “the procedural safeguards that were followed”.

The court heard, via a livestream online proceeding, that the child would spend up to 23 hours a day in a typical 6ft x 11ft cell, “with nothing to do but watch TV”, no meaningful contact and without any access to education.

AB’s witness statement said he was only allowed out for 30 minutes each day in which he had to decide whether to “make a phone call”, “have a shower” or “do some exercise”.

AB added that “it was boring, he “did not get enough fresh air” and “was banged up for the rest of the day”.

The court heard there was no universally agreed upon definition of solitary confinement but all include at least “over 22 hours confined alone in a cell without meaningful interaction”.

Counsel for the Howard League cited international reports on solitary confinement which overwhelmingly stated that the conditions were “never acceptable for children”, with arguments including the long term psychological harm, physiological effects as well as the need for education, social contact and exercise.

The court will examine whether sufficient safeguarding procedures were followed and a “critical distinction” was made between the use of separation tactics stipulated in the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000, (Rule 49) and solitary confinement.

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will need to decide whether the conditions inflicted upon AB whilst being detained at Feltham were in fact strictly necessary and whether it “amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment”, therefore breaching Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The hearing will conclude Thursday 21 January 2021.

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