Judge rules fingerprint jail security is unlawful

TWO Scottish prisons are facing mandatory amendments to their security procedures following a legal ruling on the use of biometric fingerprinting. HMP Addiewell in West Lothian and HMP Kilmarnock in Ayrshire have for years insisted visitors complete a fingerprint scan on entry, but a lawyer has now successfully challenged the process under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Solicitor advocate Gerard Sweeney – who was denied access to Addiewell to visit a client when he refused to complete the scan – raised the issue in a debate at Glasgow Sheriff Court last week. He claimed the system breached his human rights and, in turn, breached his client's rights in terms of access to a solicitor and Sheriff Joseph Platt upheld his submission. Sodexo Justice Services, which operates Addiewell, and Serco, which runs Kilmarnock, can now no longer insist on solicitors completing the scan to gain access to their clients detained at the privately run prisons. Mr Sweeney said: "The ruling states that the insistence by HMP Addiewell that lawyers must subject themselves to biometric fingerprinting, or be refused access to their clients in custody, is arbitrary and unlawful. "HMP Addiewell acted in breach of Articles 8 and 14 of the Convention as their insistence on biometric fingerprinting was not necessary to achieve a legitimate end and was discriminatory in that other accused persons – at liberty or in other penal establishments – were not subjected to such treatment." The Herald reported in September last year that Mr Sweeney was locked in a battle with the prison over gaining access to his client without going through the biometric identification process. He wrote to the prison about his concerns and received a response from Sodexo which said he would not be allowed access unless he complied with the system. Since then he has only seen his client at court hearings. During the debate, he asked that his client's case be dismissed as a result. Sheriff Platt refused this but ruled that the biometric fingerprinting of solicitors "impedes the delivery of practical and effective legal assistance". Mr Sweeney said: "Article 8 states you have a right to a private family life and you can only interfere with that right when it is necessary and it's certainly not necessary to biometrically fingerprint lawyers before they see their clients. "They know who I am from my identification card issued by my professional body. Other penal establishments in Scotland accept this, so why should Addiewell impose upon persons a requirement which is clearly unlawful.
"In order to obtain such information usually, you would require a court order or I would have to have been detained and investigated by police." The lawyer added that the ruling is important in terms of ensuring that human-rights legislation is not flouted by large organisations. He said: "The behaviour of Sodexo is indicative of an increasingly high-handed and demeaning attitude by powerful organisations towards the rights of the private citizen. HMP Addiewell has been flagrantly breaching the European Convention on Human Rights and the rights of Scottish citizens. A spokesman for Serco, which runs Kilmarnock Prison, said: "We have noted the decision of Sheriff Platt, relating to the application of biometric identification procedures to a solicitor visiting his client at HMP Addiewell last September. We are consulting with the Scottish Prison Service with regard to any possible implications for security practices at HMP Kilmarnock." However, Sodexo refused to comment until they have had time to examine a written judgment on the issue. A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said: "We are aware of this issue and will have to consider the implications of it."

Source HeraldScotland