8 April 2009
Leigh Day & Co welcomes the recent decision by British Telecom and the Prison Service to reduce the cost of calls from prison payphone calls but considers far greater reductions are needed to allow inmates to maintain contact with family and friends while in prison.
Leigh Day & Co is currently acting for Richard Davison, a serving prisoner, in a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the prohibitively high cost of telephone calls for prisoners. It is argued that the high cost of calls represents a breach of Article 8 (right to private and family life) as the high cost of calls adversely affects the ability of prisoners to stay in contact with family and friends. It is also argued that it is a breach of Article 14 (prohibition on discrimination) on the basis of the unjustified different treatment of prisoners.
This complaint follows Mr Davison’s unsuccessful judicial review challenge of the Secretary of State for the Home Department (the Home Secretary) in the High Court and Court of Appeal.
The recent reduction comes following a so-called “super complaint” by the National Consumer Council, with the support of the Prison Reform Trust, to OFCOM, the telephone regulator, last year. Information filed at Court as part of Mr Davison’s legal challenge was requested by, and supplied to, OFCOM during their investigation and then referred to in their report.
Following their investigation of this complaint, OFCOM produced a critical report confirming that they considered that the price paid by prisoners for telephone calls was too high and urged British Telecom and the Prison Service to take steps to reduce the cost.
Unfortunately, the recent reduction is only a very limited one. The reduction is from 11 pence per minute to 10 pence per minute for calls from prison payphone to outside landlines. This means that if, for example, a prisoner was to spend 40p on a call, he or she would receive just four minutes of call time whilst a person spending 40p using a public payphone would receive 20 minutes of call time - five times more. Put another way, a 20 minute telephone call would costs £2.00 in prison, and only 40p using a public payphone. Again, this is five times more expensive.
Therefore, despite this recent modest reduction, the cost of telephone calls by prisoners remains far higher that the cost of telephone calls from public payphones in the wider community for all but the shortest of calls. In light of this, cynics may consider that the recent reduction appears aimed more at staving off further action by OFCOM than addressing the fundamental problems faced by prisoners, usually on very modest earnings, paying prohibitively high costs for what are inevitably short calls to family and friends.
For further information please contact Sean Humber
or Benjamin Burrows
on 020 7650 1200.
Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.