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No systemic breach of article 2 ECHR arising from suicides at HMP Woodhill; judicial review claim dismissed.

23rd May 2017

The High Court handed down judgment today dismissing the judicial review claim brought against the Secretary of State for Justice and the Governor of HMP Woodhill by the families of two prisoners who committed suicide whilst at HMP Woodhill. Emma Price led by James Strachan QC (39 Essex) acted for the Secretary of State and the Governor.

The Claimants alleged that there was a systemic breach of article 2 of the ECHR, evidenced by repeated failures of staff to comply with the prison service instructions on suicide and self-harm prevention and emergency responses.

The Court held that the Claimants had failed to establish a systemic failing that could lead to the grant of the relief sought.

In any event, even if a systemic failing had been established, the Court was doubtful that an injunction, or a mandatory order, or a declaration would have been appropriate, noting that there are in place sensible and satisfactory policies in respect of suicides in prisons.

In so holding, Garnham J, delivering the Judgment of the Divisional Court, made the following observation: “Suicides in prison raise complex societal issues.  The solution to those problems, acute as they are, lies not with judges applying principles of public law but with those who have the unenviable task of managing prisons.”

R (Scarfe & ors) v (1) Governor of HMP Woodhill (2) Secretary of State for Justice [2017] EWHC 1194 (Admin)

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