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The High Court has today handed down judgment on the human rights obligations owed by the State to persons serving a prison sentence in a private prison.

The judgment makes clear that the State cannot outsource its human rights obligations.  It will have significant implications for private government contracts in all fields. 

The case arose out of the illegal strip searching of four Claimants at HMP Peterborough, a prison for male, female and transgender prisoners that is run by Sodexo Ltd.  The First Claimant is a transgender prisoner who was born female but is in the process of transitioning to male.  The other three claimants are female.  Sodexo conceded that the strip searches of the Claimants were unlawful and that there had been systemic failings at the prison.  However, the Claimants maintained their claim against the Secretary of State, on the basis that the Secretary of State had failed to put in place adequate and effective safeguards to protect the Claimants against a violation of Articles 3 and 8 ECHR. 

The High Court accepted the Claimants’ arguments in respect of Article 8 and held that: (1) the failings were serious, systemic and widespread and the legal framework relied on by the Secretary of State was ineffective to ensure that Sodexo had adequate systems in place; (2) it was not sufficient for the Secretary of State to rely on an ex post facto identification of breaches as its safeguarding measure, particularly in the context of strip searching prisoners, many of whom had been subject to sexual, physical or psychological abuse; as a result (3) the measures put in place by the Secretary of State to protect against systemic or widespread mistakes were not effective and amounted to a breach of Article 8.

The full judgment can be read online here.

Jason Pobjoy and Isabel Buchanan, instructed by Samuel Genen of Steel and Shamash Solicitors, acted for the Claimants.
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