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Prisoners’ Human Rights Violated by Unlawful Strip Searches

PrisonCivilised societies are measured by the humanity with which prisoners are treated. In a High Court case on point, four prison inmates who were subjected to unlawful strip searches which violated their human rights have won the right to compensation.

Three women and a transgender man were intimately searched at a prison run by a private contractor on behalf of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). After they launched proceedings, the contractor admitted that there had been a systemic failure to follow government guidance on the conduct of strip searches and that their human right to respect for privacy – enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – had been breached.

The MoJ resisted the claims on the basis that the prison was inspected three times a year and that the contractor’s performance was carefully monitored by independent agencies. The Court, however, noted that those measures had not proved adequate or effective in ensuring that the prisoners’ rights were respected. In particular, there had been a failure to ensure that the contractor’s staff were properly trained in the conduct of strip searches.

The Court found numerous serious, systemic and widespread failures at the prison over the relevant period. The contractor’s staff had treated strip searches as routine and had proceeded straight to the most intrusive form of search, without first carrying out rub downs or hand-held metal detector scans.

The Court granted the prisoners a declaration to the effect that the MoJ had failed in the positive obligation placed upon it by Article 8 to supervise and monitor the prison’s management during the relevant period. The amount of damages payable to the prisoners by the contractor has yet to be assessed.

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