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Lifer with learning disability wins right to behaviour programmes

18 May 2010

A prisoner with a learning disability, who received a life sentence after throwing boiling water at a prison officer’s face, has won the right to take part in offending behaviour programmes.

Mr Justice Cranston said that although these programmes were “neither a necessary nor a sufficient” condition for release, they had been identified as an “avenue to these goals” for the prisoner.

Giving judgment in R (on the application of Gill) v Secretary of State for Justice [2010] EWHC 364 (Admin), Cranston J said Dennis Gill was told that his IQ was below the level required for offending behaviour programmes.

The judge said that the secretary of state accepted that Gill had a disability under section 1 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Cranston J applied the six steps set out in R (on the application of Lunt) v Liverpool City Council [2009] EWHC 2356(Admin) to decide whether the prison service had made the reasonable adjustments required by the DDA.

“It will be recalled that both the May 2007 and May 2008 documents about suitability for accredited programmes contain the explicit, and italicised, statement that IQ in the region of 80 or below may prevent meaningful engagement with the material in a programme,” he said.

“That makes it difficult, or even impossible, for inmates with a learning disability like the claimant’s to make use of offending behaviour work within the same period as other prisoners.”

Cranston J said that reports for Gill’s first parole board review in 2003 identified risk factors including “violence, poor emotional control, substance abuse and distorted thinking” and recommended his assessment for a number of offending behaviour programmes.

“As early as 2005 the claimant’s external probation officer said that it was of particular importance that the claimant complete offending behaviour programmes so release could be considered.”

Cranston J went on: “Yet the claimant has been prevented from making use of those courses, and the reason for this is his learning disability. The evidence on this is quite clear.

“To my mind all this demonstrates that the practices, policies or procedures of the secretary of state have made it impossible for this claimant to make use of offending behaviour work when the clear message was that he needed it.”

Mr Justice Cranston concluded: “In my judgment steps should have been taken so that he could be provided with some type of offending behaviour work to give him the opportunity to demonstrate, eventually, his safety for release.

“Other steps have been taken, and assistance provided, but nothing comparable to offending behaviour work. It is clear to me that this failure cannot be justified.

“In the circumstances of this claimant’s case the secretary of state has unlawfully breached the statutory duty imposed on him to take steps so that his practices, policies and procedures do not discriminate against this intellectually disabled prisoner.”

Sara Lomri, solicitor in the public law and human rights department of Bindmans, acted for Gill.

She said disabled prisoners were frequently discriminated against in many areas of prison life.

“This is an important ruling and will go some way to improving the treatment that disabled prisoners receive nationwide.”

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Police & Prisons Children Costs