The recent judgment of the Court of Amsterdam in the Netherlands casts a bleak picture of the current state of the UK prison estate, particularly HMP Liverpool. The Court refused to order a man’s extradition to the UK following request in relation to drug dealing. They found that ‘the expectation that the situation (in the prisons) will improve rapidly is not sufficient to assume that the real risk of inhumane treatment has actually disappeared. The already established real danger of inhuman or degrading treatment in these establishments has not been eliminated.’
That the court in the Netherlands refused to order extradition under article 3 is perhaps unsurprising. There are a large number of recent damning reports on conditions at HMP Liverpool. The 17-18 annual report from HMIP stated they found ‘some of the worst conditions we had ever seen’ when they visited the prison. The unannounced inspection of HMP Liverpool in 2017 found that ‘Many cells were not fit to be used and should have been decommissioned’ and the periodic CPT report from 2016 was critical of the overall prison estate in the UK.
In finding the risk of an article 3 breach the court in the Netherlands relied on the fact that due to the requested person’s geographical links it was likely he would be held at HMP Liverpool. The court has now adjourned the proceedings in order for further information from the UK to be provided. The UK’s position to date has been to refute the current accuracy of the findings of the Dutch court, maintaining that the position in the reports no longer reflects the conditions at HMP Liverpool.
However, given the judge’s findings it is likely further concessions will be needed if the extradition request is to be pursued. As the findings of the Dutch Court only related to HMP Liverpool, HMP Birmingham and HMP Bedford it is likely that a suitable assurance could be provided ensuring that the extradition request can still be fulfilled.
In terms of the case’s wider application, this was an article 3 case not focused on space but on the conditions which prisoners would have to live in. The HMIP report references prolonged periods of time spent in their cells, while the unannounced inspection found a number of issues including; ‘a significant problem with cockroaches and rats throughout the prison’, and piles of rubbish so long standing that ‘it had not been cleared by prisoners employed as cleaning orderlies because it presented a health and safety risk. It was so bad that external contractors were to be brought in to deal with it.’ In addition, at the time of inspection ‘around 2,000 maintenance jobs were outstanding’ at the prison. Counsel for the requested person successfully argued that any assurance about improvements to the prisons was too generic and imprecise to undermine the well documented concerns raised in the various reports.
Any domestic impact of the ruling is likely to be very limited. The courts in this jurisdiction, albeit in the context of medical conditions, have ruled that ‘It is only where it is inevitable that prison will result in a breach of article 3 that a sentence of imprisonment would become inappropriate on human rights grounds in this jurisdiction.’ (Blazsak v Poland  EWHC 2412 (Admin)). Any domestic sentencing court for a criminal matter would have to go beyond the findings of the Amsterdam court which only found a ‘real danger’ of an article 3 breach which is a long way short of inevitability. So while the case may be politically embarrassing, it is unlikely to have a substantial legal impact presuming suitable assurances are provided.
John has a growing practice in all areas of criminal law and has been instructed in cases of robbery, rape, sexual assault and burglary. He has appeared in numerous cases involving youths and is familiar with the additional issues and particular vulnerabilities that often arise when dealing with young clients.