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Compensation for handcuffed prisoner

80 year old man handcuffed while in hospital for cancer surgery

Posted on 09 January 2015

An elderly prisoner, who was handcuffed during his hospital stay for the removal of a tumour from his bladder, has secured compensation from the government.

The 80 year old prisoner, known as “Mr E”, was admitted as an inpatient at a London hospital in July 2012.  He underwent surgery the same day as his admission and then stayed in recovery for the next three days.  During this time, he was located in a separate room on the second floor of the hospital.

As well as having bladder cancer, Mr E also suffered from other serious illnesses which caused him to suffer from chronic immobility and a chronic lack of breath.  As a result, he could only walk with two walking crutches and even then could only do so for short distances.

Despite this, Mr E was “double-cuffed” up to his surgery (i.e. both his wrists were handcuffed together and then one of his wrists were then handcuffed to an escort officer), and then single-cuffed throughout his recovery (i.e. one of his wrists was handcuffed to an escort officer).  

As well as causing him discomfort, this also caused Mr E a lack of dignity and privacy.  The handcuffing meant that at least one of the two escort officers accompanying him was present whilst he received treatment.  This included examinations of his bladder area and discussions of his life expectancy, as well as nursing assistance with washing and dressing.

Following his discharge, Mr E instructed Benjamin Burrows, a lawyer in the prison law team at Leigh Day, to bring a claim against the prison in respect of the decision to handcuff him during his hospital stay.

A claim for compensation was then brought against the Ministry of Justice for a breach of the Human Rights Act.  

It was argued that the decision to handcuff Mr E was not necessary or proportionate in light of his age, illnesses and immobility, and, as such, the lack of dignity and privacy it caused him amounted to a breach of his Article 3 and 8 Convention rights (i.e. prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment and right to private and family life).

Happily, shortly after it was brought, the Ministry of Justice agreed to pay Mr E compensation in settlement of his claim.

In commenting on the settlement, Mr Burrows, a solicitor in the prison law team at Leigh Day, said:

“Both domestic and European caselaw is clear that a prisoner should not automatically be handcuffed when receiving hospital treatment just because they are a prisoner.  Rather, the prison should carefully weigh up whether or not handcuffing is needed in light of the risk posed by a prisoner should they escape and their ability to do so should they wish to.

"In Mr E’s case, it must have been clear to the prison that his illnesses and immobility meant that his ability to escape was very low and that any risk he did pose could have easily been mitigated by alternative measures such as simply stationing an escort officer by the door to his room.

"However, the prison failed to weigh this up, and Mr E suffered unnecessary humiliation and embarrassment as a result.”

Mr E was represented in his claim by Martha Spurrier of Doughty Street Chambers, a recognised expert in prison and human rights law.  

Please contact Benjamin Burrows for further details.