‘Charismatic’ killer of Lee Rigby has converted prisoners to Islam, judge told

adebolajoadebolajoScreen Shot 2017-10-31 at 20.21.51A Muslim extremist jailed for life after being convicted of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby is looked up to by fellow prisoners, a High Court judge has been told.

Michael adebolajo was “charismatic” and intelligence suggested that he had helped convert other inmates to Islam, Mr Justice Langstaff heard.

Detail of the influence adebolajo wielded in jail has emerged after he took legal action against the Ministry of Justice.

adebolajo claims that he was injured by prison officers during an incident in a cell and wants compensation.

Mr Justice Langstaff oversaw a preliminary hearing in the case at the High Court in London on Tuesday.

He said any trial was some distance off and made an order barring prison officers involved from being identified in media reports.

Fusilier Rigby, 25, died after being attacked near Woolwich Barracks in south-east London in May 2013.

adebolajo, who is in his early 30s, and Michael Adebowale, who is in his mid-20s, were convicted of murder following a trial at the Old Bailey.

adebolajo was given a whole-life jail term.

Adebowale was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 45 years.

Jurors heard that they mowed down Fusilier Rigby in a car before hacking him to death.

Mr Justice Langstaff said adebolajo, who was not at Tuesday’s hearing, had complained about an incident in a cell while on remand in July 2013.

Lawyers representing the Ministry of Justice said prison officers likely to give evidence at any trial could be in danger if their names emerged in media reports.

They gave the judge detail of the influence adebolajo had in prison.

“He forms relationships easily,” said the judge.

“He is charismatic.

“There is intelligence suggesting that he has had some influence on the conversion to Islam of some individuals.”

The judge added: “There is a large group of people who look up to adebolajo.”

Mr Justice Langstaff said the incident at the centre of adebolajo’s claim had occurred while he was awaiting trial.

Five prison officers had been escorting adebolajo. Physical force had been used to restrain him.

He had been held by the head and an arm and had lost two front teeth.

The judge said the use of physical force by prison officers had to be justified.

Ministry of Justice lawyers told the judge that prison officers were “deeply unhappy” about being involved in legal proceedings.

Mr Justice Langstaff said adebolajo had not been given legal aid to pay for lawyers to represent him.

He said adebolajo might have to represent himself at any trial and suggested that it would be in the interests of justice if public funding could be given.

“If and when this case comes to trial it will be a great pity to justice, and in particular the presentation of the claimant’s case, if some means were not found to ensure he had professional help,” said the judge.

“If that could be done by public funds all the better.”

adebolajo had screamed ”Allahu akbar” as he and Adebowale were sentenced by a judge at the Old Bailey in February 2014 after being convicted of Fusilier Rigby’s murder.

The two British-born extremists, who were dressed in Islamic robes, erupted with rage as Mr Justice Sweeney told them that they had been radicalised and betrayed their religion.

Both were pinned to the ground and bundled out of court by prison officers.

Mr Justice Sweeney said: “You each converted to Islam some years ago. Thereafter you were radicalised and each became an extremist, espousing a cause and views which, as has been said elsewhere, are a betrayal of Islam and of the peaceful Muslim communities who give so much to our country.”

He added: “You decided between you, and in order to advance your extremist cause, to murder a soldier in public in broad daylight and to do so in a way that would generate maximum media coverage.”

Court of Appeal allows charities to challenge legal aid cuts for prisoners

legalaidcutsTwo charities have today (Tuesday 28 July) won the right to challenge legal aid cuts for prisoners after the Court of Appeal ruled there was a risk that the system could be unfair and unlawful.

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) have been inundated with requests for help from children and prisoners since the cuts were introduced in December 2013.

The cuts have coincided with an unprecedented deterioration of safety standards in English and Welsh prisons and a rise in suicides, compounded by staff shortages.

A challenge by the Howard League and PAS was blocked by the High Court in March 2014 – but that decision was today overturned by Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp.

The Court of Appeal’s decision means that the case can now proceed to a full trial. 

The charities argued in court that there were seven key areas of work cut from the ambit of legal aid that carry an unacceptable risk of unfairness. These included:

  • cases where prisoners appear before the Parole Board about their suitability for a move to open prison (but not release);
  • cases about pregnant prisoners being allocated to mother and baby units;
  • segregation;
  • access to offending behaviour work;
  • having a suitable home to go to on release from prison.

Unlike other cuts to legal aid, where a safety net was introduced to allow people to apply for legal aid in exceptional circumstances, the cuts for prisoners were absolute: there is no lifeline for even the most vulnerable or incapacitated prisoner to apply for legal aid for prison law matters.

In its detailed decision, the Court of Appeal recognises the risk of systemic unfairness as a result of the legal aid cuts to prison law. Lord Justice Leveson concludes: “The question of inherent unfairness concerns not simply the structure of the system which may be capable of operating fairly, but whether there are mechanisms in place to accommodate the arguably higher risk of unfair decisions for those with mental health, learning or other difficulties which effectively deprive them of the ability effectively to participate in, at least, some of the decisions to which [the applicants’ counsel] Ms Kaufmann refers.”

Lord Justice Leveson adds in the judgment that the Howard League and PAS are “pre-eminent in this field” and have “the very highest reputations”.

In the year following the cuts, calls to the Howard League’s advice line increased by 45 per cent. The legal team, which provides the only dedicated legal service for children and young people in prison in the country, is overwhelmed with requests from young people with nowhere else to turn.

Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) represents adults (over-21s) and receives thousands of letters and calls each year. The charity simply does not have the physical or financial resources to deal with the large amount of requests that it now receives for pro bono assistance and representation.

The first key point of the case argues that the removal of legal aid for a small number of important Parole Board cases is unlawful. These cases affect prisoners on life sentences and imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences who can only progress to open conditions if the Parole Board advises that it would be safe for them to do so. This is important because, once in open conditions, prisoners can apply to work and receive education in the community. This step is key for prisoners’ rehabilitation and public safety. Making prisoners go through this stage without legal advice and representation is counter-productive and increases the risk to the public.

The second argument concerns the removal of legal aid for prisoners facing particular difficulties such as mothers threatened with separation from their babies, children and disabled prisoners who need a support package so they can be released safely, and mentally ill prisoners held in isolation. Managing people through long prison sentences is a skilful business which needs to be handled with extreme care so that they can resettle safely into the community.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
“We welcome today’s decision, which offers hope to children and young people in prison.

 

“The Howard League’s legal team has represented many hundreds of children in prison and we want them to thrive inside and on release. Legal aid gets them the best help to achieve that.”

Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor at the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “We are delighted with the outcome of today’s hearing. The legal aid cuts to prison law have resulted in prisoners’ access to justice being severely curtailed with the consequence of further isolating an already very marginalised sector of our society.

“We therefore welcome today’s judgment, which now allows for a full hearing of the case and are thrilled to be now given the opportunity to put forward our case for legal aid for the most deprived and disadvantaged of prisoners.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Court of Appeal heard oral argument on 7 July 2015.  The case was before Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp.
  2. The seven key areas of cuts to legal aid under challenge are:

    (1) Cases before the Parole Board about a move towards open conditions, otherwise known as pre-tariff reviews and return to open condition cases;

    (2) Prisoner eligibility for one of the few available places in mother and baby units;

    (3) Prisoner segregation and placement in Close Supervision Centres;

    (4) Category A reviews;

    (5) Access to offending behaviour courses

    (6) Resettlement and licence conditions

    (7) Disciplinary proceedings (where no additional days may be awarded)

  3. The Justice Committee’s year-long inquiry into the impact of the Government’s programme of reforms and efficiency savings across the prison estate raised concerns about the deterioration in safety. The report was published in March 2015 and is available here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news/report-prisons-planning-and-policies/
  4. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  5. The Prisoners’ Advice Service is an independent registered charity which provides legal advice and information to prisoners in England and Wales regarding their rights, the application of the Prison Rules and conditions of imprisonment.
  6. The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service are jointly represented in these cases by Simon Creighton of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, Phillippa Kaufmann of Matrix Chambers, and Martha Spurrier and Alex Gask of Doughty Street Chambers.

Further information

 

Rob Preece

Press Officer

The Howard League for Penal Reform

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880

Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094.

 

Deborah Russo

Joint Managing Solicitor

The Prisoners Advice Service

Tel: +44 (0)20 7253 3600

Tel: deborah.russo@prisonersadvice.org.uk

 

Legal Aid Cuts Threaten ‘World Renown’ British Justice System – and riots in our jails

legal_aid

Government plans to overhaul legal aid threaten to destroy the “world-renowned” British justice system, barristers have told ministers – and prison experts have said the measures threaten such a level of national unrest inside our jails that they could eventually cost far more than any potential savings would ever hope to save.

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has published its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on legal aid reform, which includes paving the way for lawyers to compete for contracts.

The 150-page response said price competitive tendering (PCT) promotes the “lowest possible quality of service” and will result in further changes to civil legal aid, hitting society’s most vulnerable people.

Other changes will see criminal defendants living in households with a disposable income of £37,500 or more stopped from automatically accessing legal aid, while prisoners’ rights to the support will also would be curbed.

Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “There is no avoiding the simple fact that these proposals would move us from having a justice system which is admired all over the world, to a system where price trumps all.

“PCT may look as though it achieves short-term savings, but it is a blunt instrument that will leave deep scars on our justice system for far longer. Further cuts to the scope of civil legal aid will limit access to justice for some of the most vulnerable. That is a legacy of which no Government should be proud.”

She added: “The proposals simply do not have a sufficient evidence base on which to attract support. We believe that if these proposals are implemented as they stand, the system will go very badly wrong. Once implemented, these measures cannot be easily reversed.”

Ms McGowan QC said Justice Secretary Chris Grayling should achieve any required reforms “without destroying a world-renowned institution”.

The Bar Council response said that the proposals would destroy the livelihoods of many smaller solicitors’ firms and the criminal defence Bar.

Criminal legal aid costs taxpayers more than £1 billion every year and the proposals should cut the bill by £220 million.

In April, reforms to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into effect, removing large areas of law from the scope of civil legal aid.

Some law firms estimated the reforms will reduce the number of people who qualify for legal aid by 75%, meaning around 200,000 fewer cases, while barristers warned the cuts are the biggest to civil legal aid since the system was introduced in 1949.

In its response to the consultation, the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the body responsible for regulating barristers, said plans to pay legal aid lawyers the same amount for a “guilty” or “not guilty” plea could lead to defendants being pressurised into pleading guilty.

It said cases where the defendant enters an initial guilty plea are typically shorter and so cheaper than trials to assess guilt.

Setting the same fee for cases where a defendant pleads guilty and for longer trials may create an incentive for lawyers to encourage clients to plead guilty.

Bar Standards Board chair Baroness Ruth Deech said: “These reforms may endanger the ability of our legal system to guarantee everyone a fair trial.

“While we accept that the current austerity measures are a consequence of the financial climate, protecting the public, and ensuring criminal cases are dealt with fairly and justly, remain of the utmost importance.”

Mr Grayling said: “We have one of the best legal professions in the world.

“But at a time of major financial challenges, the legal sector cannot be excluded from the Government’s commitment to getting better value for taxpayers’ money. We believe costs paid to lawyers through legal aid should reflect this.

“Professional, qualified lawyers will be available, just as they are now, and contracts will only be awarded to lawyers who meet quality standards set by the profession.

“Wealthy defendants who can afford to pay for their own legal bills should do so. Our proposal is to introduce a threshold on Crown Court legal aid so that people earning around £100,000 a year are no longer automatically granted legal aid.

“We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, with about £1 billion a year spent just on criminal legal aid.

“These changes are about getting the best value for the taxpayer and will not in any way affect someone’s right to a fair trial.”

The disposable income cap of £37,500 per household would impact defendants with six-figure salaries, an MoJ spokesman added.

But Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said those figures were disputed by many prison law experts, and the threatened cuts in legal aid could end up ‘costing far more than the measures would ever save’.

Mr Leech said: “Look, its not rocket science, but history shows there comes a policy tipping point where one cut too much results in a backlash inside our overcrowded powder-keg prisons, which are things that we desperately need to avoid – these things can rapidly spread nationally, caused by cuts that while understandable politically are nontheless, in practice, just one cut too many.”

Mr Leech explaned: “In 1990 the riot at Strangeways prison in Manchester spread within days to 13 other prisons, it cost the taxpayer over ninety million pounds, people died, no one wants to be seen talking these things up, and certaintly not me – but we can’t ignore history nor the facts or the consequences that we know from history are seriously likely to occur.

“The lesson now, before its too late is this: Stop, don’t pick on vulnerable prisoners any more, they’re a soft political target but history also shows that pushed too far they are a formidable resistable force which when unleashed  has an incredible national impetus – try focusing  on the bankers (or ‘Banksters’ as they’ve become known) instead – or at least as a minimum let’s have a rational national debate about its policy.

“It’s not too late – but we really do need to be now all on the same side.”

COURT RULES ON VOTES FOR PRISONERS

The row over prisoners’ voting rights has erupted again as human rights judges gave David Cameron six months to change the law in Britain.

The European Court of Human Rights acknowledged that it was up to national authorities to decide exactly who can vote from jail – but denying the right to all inmates indiscriminately is illegal.

The ultimatum was issued as the Strasbourg court ruled in a separate case that depriving an Italian convicted murderer of voting rights did not breach his human rights.

But the judges emphasised that this was because in Italy, unlike the UK, there is no “general, automatic, indiscriminate” ban in place.

The ruling pointed out that in Italy, the loss of voting rights only applied to prisonersguilty of certain types of offences and where a sentence of at least three years is imposed. Even for those affected the right to vote can be restored three years after the sentence has been completed.

The judges effectively challenged the UK Government to agree within six months on what parameters to set for British prisoners, and scrap the total ban.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the government would now consider carefully the ruling on Italy “and its implication on the issue of prisoner voting in the UK”.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners, welcomed the ruling but said he could not understand what all the fuss was about.

“The reality is that the public are up in arms about this – when most prisoners really couldn’t care less.

“Politicians don’t take a blind bit of notice of the public millions who can vote now – what makes anyone think giving 80,000 prisoners the vote will make any difference?”

“That said, prisoners should be allowed to vote, if for no other reason than we live in a democracy, and in a demoncracy everyone counts – black, white, male, female, tall, small, fat, thin, gay or straight, everyone, every single person counts.”

But Tory MP David Davis slammed the ultimatum, saying: “This regrettable decision is an infringement of the UK Parliament’s right to decide on matters which are fundamental to the British way of life, and which are not appropriate to judicial intervention.

“This will inevitably lead to a clash between the express wishes of the UK Parliament and the assertions of the European Court and will not help the court achieve its important functions in stopping breaches of fundamental rights throughout Europe.”

The judges said that if the UK now complies within six months with the order to grant some prisoners voting rights, the Court will “strike out” all similar pending cases from UKprisoners – about 2,500 and counting.

That would remove the current threat of massive potential government damages payments to prison inmates if all complaints went through the Strasbourg court and were upheld.

The ruling declared: “It is up to (Council of Europe) Member states to decide how to regulate the ban on prisoners’ voting.”

The judges said they now accepted the UK Government argument that “each State has a wide discretion as to how it regulates the ban, both as regards the types of offence that should result in the loss of the vote and as to whether disenfranchisement should be ordered by a judge in an individual case or should result from general application of a law”.

The wrangle with Strasbourg began when UK inmates complained that the loss of voting rights violated a Human Rights Convention Article guaranteeing the “right to free elections”.

The European Court of Human Rights has twice ruled the UK’s total ban illegal.

But the Prime Minister has previously told MPs: “It makes me physically ill to contemplate giving the vote to prisoners. They should lose some rights, including the right to vote.”

UK Independence Party MEP Paul Nuttall, said: “Pass David Cameron the sick bag, because this judgment means that British prisoners will get the vote – some of them at least.”

He added: “This is a bad judgment from a Mickey Mouse court. It is a slap in the face to the British democratic process.

“We should not have to come cap in hand to a foreign court seeking to defend the clear wishes of the British parliament and people.”

But Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty said: “After all the political hot-air and raised tempers over prisoner voting, today’s judgment shows that whilst the Court of Human Rights must uphold core values against blanket and irrational Victorian laws, it will allow individual countries a great deal of discretion about how best to apply human rights at home.

“The Commons huffed and puffed but the Court had no intention of blowing its House down. Perhaps we can now have a more rational domestic debate about what prisoner voting bans really achieve and if and when they might be appropriate?”

A London Law firm currently acting for more than 550 prisoners challenging UK voting rights laws warned that further delays in changing domestic rules could leave the Government facing damages payouts.

Leigh Day & Co, is handling applications relating to inmates’ inability to vote in the May 2010 general election. Partner Sean Humber commented: “In its latest judgment, the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed again that the UK’s continuing blanket ban on prisoner voting is unlawful.

“The UK Government must now come forward with the necessary legislative proposals to rectify the continuing breach.

“Continuing inaction is likely to leave the UK further exposed to claims for compensation by serving prisoners.”

THE CASE OF THE ONE-LEGGED LOW RISK LIFER!

KIDNAPPING KILLER MICHAEL SAMS

A prisoner serving a life sentence for the murder of a teenager and the rape and kidnap of an estate agent two decades ago today told a High Court judge that he was “now … only a low risk”.

Michael Sams explained to Mr Justice Ouseley, during a High Court hearing in London, how the level of risk he posed to women prison staff had fallen over the past 15 years.

Sams, jailed at Nottingham Crown Court in 1993 for the murder of Julie Dart, 18, of Leeds and the rape and kidnap of Birmingham estate agent Stephanie Slater, then 25 – assessed his risk level as he tried to force authorities to re-categorise his prisoner status.

“In 1995, 1997 I was an extreme danger to female staff,” Sams, who is now past retirement age, told the judge. “In 2005, I was only medium risk. Now I am only low risk.”

He took legal action against Justice Secretary Ken Clarke as part of a fight to be downgraded from category A.

Sams, who has one leg and is a former toolmaker from Sutton-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, complained that prison bosses had refused to remove “inaccurate” information from his files.

But Mr Justice Ouseley dismissed his claim for “judicial review” saying prison officials had made “time-consuming and painstaking efforts” to ensure Sams’ file contained “all that it ought to”.

The judge was told that prison authorities had considered Sams’ case in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and concluded each time that he should be classed category A.

Sams represented himself and appeared by video link from Whitemoor prison near March, Cambridgeshire, where he is held.

He had presented a hand-written statement of claim to the court.

Sams wrote his “detailed statement of facts & grounds” in capital letters and referred to himself in the third person.

“This is a challenge by a life sentence prisoner to a decision by the Ministry of Justice to refuse to remove inaccurate reports from his files,” wrote Sams.

“The claimant is disabled (above right knee amputation) and he is 69 years of age. He has been a ‘cat A’ prisoner throughout his sentence.”

Prisoners Get Compensation for Dental Pain


Prisoners at the UK’s largest maximum security jail have been given thousands of pounds in compensation over claims of poor dental care.

The 24 inmates at Wakefield Prison settled out of court with the NHS and were given a total of £47,000.

They were also awarded more than £300,000 in legal fees.

Wakefield District NHS Primary Care Trust said they inherited long waiting lists after taking over responsibility for prison treatment in 2005.

Gill Galdins, the trust’s chief operating officer, added: “A national report has shown that the prison population’s dental health is generally poorer and more complex, and in addition there has been difficulty recruiting to vacant posts.

“Improvements have been made to provide a comprehensive, specialist dental service including emergency treatment. We are working hard to ensure the local prison population receive the same access to dental care, as residents across the country, only within a secure setting.

“The figures paid to claimants were all relatively low. When this happens it’s often the case that the claimants’ solicitor’s costs are disproportionate. A number of cases were successfully rejected.

“There was no legal ruling, that we were aware of, that set any precedent for prisoners suing for dental problems. Where a patient experiences a breach of duty of care and injury follows they are entitled to compensation.”

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the prisoners national newspaper said: “Because the Government’s dental contract provides such poor rates of pay the difficulty experienced by the public in getting an NHS dentist is the same for prisoners, except that they do not have the ability to search for an alternative.

If the NHS cannot provide the dental services to prisons that they are legally required to provide and prisoners suffer pain as a result then of course they should receive compensation for that pain – they are no different to anyone else.