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Prisoners and human rights

There are certain fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to everyone, including those in prison.  Prison authorities are required to operate in a way that respects these rights.

The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty, which sets out a number of fundamental rights owed to all people. These include the following:
  • Right to life;
  • Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment;
  • Right to liberty and security;
  • Right to a fair trial;
  • No punishment without law;
  • Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence;
  • Freedom of thought, belief and religion;
  • Freedom of expression;
  • Right to marry and start a family;
  • Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms;
  • Protection of your property;
  • Right to participate in free elections. 

The Human Rights Act allows individuals to bring cases arguing that these rights have been violated in courts in the UK so that, in most situations, it is no longer necessary for people to complain to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In recent years, there have been numerous cases where the Courts, either in the UK or in Strasbourg, have found that prisons have violated these rights.  These include interference with prisoners’ legal mail, handcuffing of prisoners at Hospital appointments, failing to observe prisoners at risk of self-harm and the blanket ban on prisoners from voting.

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