The Scottish taxpayer will no longer foot the bill for cases brought by prisoners concerning infringements of their human rights, where the cases are brought after a certain period of time.
The Scottish Government will have the power to limit the cases brought against them under the Scotland Act for such damages, if the order laid before Holyrood and Westminster on 1st April is approved. The bill should follow in the Scottish Parliament and should come into effect before the end of July.
Decisions made over recent years in cases such as those involving slopping-out in prisons have cost the Scottish Taxpayer dearly. Some £11m is estimated to have been paid in compensation and legal fees in the 3737 cases settled by the Scottish Government. Prisoners in these cases claimed a breach of their human rights under the Scotland Act 1998. (The Scotland Act incorporates the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998 which itself incorporates the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.) The cases will now be deemed time barred after one year from the first alleged breach of the prisoners’ human rights in all cases raised after 31 July 2009.
The case of Somerville was decided in 2007 by the House of Lords. Somerville claimed his human rights had been breached as he was segregated from other prisoners. It was made clear in that case that the Scotland Act did not provide a time bar for such actions. Thus, the Scottish Government is the only public authority which is open to such claims without the protection of a time restriction. This unique position cannot continue as the potential cost to the government is simply too great. The effect of the House of Lords judgment meant that any breaches of human rights since the Scotland Act was passed in 1998 could potentially lead to an action for damages. £50m currently set aside to deal with future claims for prisoner compensation can now be released for other priorities.
Kenny McAskill, Justice Minister, said in Parliament on 1 April “The First Minister told the Parliament on 19 March that the UK Government and the Scottish Government had reached agreement in principle on a solution to the anomaly exposed by the House of Lords judgment on Somerville, in terms of which the two Governments committed themselves to working together to deliver a on-year time bar in Scotland by the summer.”