Legal Challenge – but is there really a ban on prisoners having books?

Prisoner reading a book

The government’s so-called ban on prisoners receiving books is facing a legal challenge, with one prisons expert asserting there is no ban on books at all.

The Ministry of Justice and secretary of state Chris Grayling have been criticised over the Earned Privileges Scheme, which sees prisoners banned from receiving books and other items in the post.

Now a female inmate, known as BGJ, has decided to challenge the ban, according to the BBC.

BBC Newsnight’s political editor Emily Maitlis said: “She [the prisoner] is an epilepsy sufferer, very highly qualified and she has said her life is in despair without access to these books, which have really been taking her through this life sentence that she will serve.”

The MoJ says the legal challenge comes outside of the three-month window for appealing against a new policy, as the scheme was introduced in November.

The BBC said the lawyers would press ahead with the challenge, arguing that the policy had been brought in at different times in different prisons and that BGJ had only been affected in the past 10 days.

Authors and human rights groups have condemned the policy, which Grayling has previously defended as a measure to stop illicit materials being smuggled into prisons.

Writers including Carol Ann Duffy, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Mark Haddon have protested against ther ban, but Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said there was no ‘ban on books’ just a restriction on where they could come from.

Mr Leech said: “Anyone who reads Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 30/2013, which brought in the new Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme, can see there is no ban on books at all – just a general restriction that they cannot be sent in from family because of cases where pages have been doused with liquid drugs which are then cut up and sold to prisoners – but even then Governors have discretion to allow it [para 10.4].

“For example page 46 of PSI 30/2013 states ‘Specialist products including.. books.. may be purchased by prisoners for their own use’.

“Page 56 states Prisoners are allowed a maximum of 12 books in possession for their own use, and page 62 says that Governors may not prevent unconvicted prisoners from having supplied to them at their own expense..books.

“Where is this ban – I am a publisher and we send around 100 books a week in to prisoners, none of which have been withheld.

“I believe that any legal challenge is destined to fail, it would be bizarre if the Secretary of State could not make restrictions on security grounds which limit potential souces of abuse, and the courts have a long history of being reluctant to look behind ‘security grounds’ advanced as reasons for policy.

“Its unlikely that any challenge will get off the ground anyway because the PSI came into force on 1st November 2013 and the rule is that any legal challenge to it must be brought ‘promptly’ and, in any event, not later than 3 months after the grounds to make the claim first arose infact there have been cases brought within the three month time limit which were nonethless ruled out of time because they were not brought ‘promptly’.” (CPR Part 54.5 and ex.p Finn-Kelcey)

psi302013