Friday, September 27, 2013

Rape By Prison Staff - Call for Information

The blogpost on rape of women in detention has had interesting effects, mostly subterranean – as is the way with anything prison related. Information flows, in odd channels, carving its way through the cracks in the walls. The Ministry of Justice were extremely annoyed. Not at any revelation that women prisoners in their care were being raped, but by the accusation that they were indifferent to it. Good.

The blogpost was not only very personal; it was part of a deeper strategy for change. The shape of this is not for discussion; giving away that information, The Plan, would be to give the Ministry the avenues to scupper it. I am but one voice in a chorus on this issue, and powerful allies play their part in their own corners of the criminal justice landscape.

Now I call for information. As much information as possible relating to the sexual abuse of prisoners across the system. Prison staff are notoriously reticent and cliquish, but not a homogenous group. Prisons contain Discipline staff – screws – managers, teachers, chaplains, workshop staff, psychologists, probation officers, NHS medics....a range of individuals and professional groups who do not all buy into the mentality of denial or dehumanisation.

There are numerous ways in which I can be reached anonymously. Phone, blog, gmail, twitter...I am here. And we have the services of three senior QC's to defend the interests of any whistleblower, all willing and able to wield the law against the Prison Service in defence of anyone who shares their knowledge of these awful crimes. And the protection exists....

The law on whistleblowing is governed by the Employment Rights Act (ERA) 1996, as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998. The preamble of the PIDA describes it as “An Act to protect individuals who make certain disclosures of information in the public interest; to allow such individuals to bring action in respect of victimisation; and for connected purposes.”

The law is therefore designed to protect ‘workers’ (including employees) that disclose information about malpractice at their workplace, or former workplace, providing that certain conditions are met.

The PIDA establishes two tiers of protection for whistleblowers on the grounds that they have made a “protected disclosure”:
i.                    Not to be dismissed
ii.                  Not to suffer any detriment
Since the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) 2013 came into force on June 25 2013, the existing legislation extends to protect whistleblowers against detriment also caused by co-workers as a result of a protected disclosure

When will a whistle blower be protected by the legislation?
For the whistleblowing protection to apply, the information provided must constitute a “protected disclosure”. In order to be protected, the information disclosed must firstly concern some wrongdoing (a Qualified Disclosure) and secondly, be disclosed by the worker in accordance with the statutory provisions.

1)      Qualified Disclosure
A disclosure of information will be a qualifying disclosure[4] if, in the reasonable belief[5] of the person making the disclosure, it shows any of the following has occurred or is likely to occur:

-          A criminal offence
-          Breach of a legal obligation
-          A miscarriage of justice
-          Danger to the health or safety of an individual
-          Damage to the environment
-          The deliberate concealment of information of any of the above
Due to the ERRA, for disclosures after 25 June 2013, the whistleblower must also have a reasonable belief that the information disclosed is in the public interest

 2)      Prescribed methods of disclosure
In order to be protected, a qualifying disclosure must be made via one of the following prescribed methods:

-          To the employer: PIDA encourages internal disclosure (disclosure to the employer) as the primary means of disclosure

-          To a responsible third party: If a worker reasonably believes that the information relates to a third party’s conduct or to a matter for which they are responsible

-          To a legal advisor: If made in the course of obtaining legal advice

-          To a Minister of the Crown: If employed by a person or body appointed under statute, the worker can report matters to the relevant minister

-          To a prescribed person: Parliament has provided a list of “prescribed persons”including HMRC, the Audit Commission and the Office of Fair Trading – to whom workers can make disclosures, provided that the worker reasonably believes that:
i.              The information, and any allegation it contains, is substantially true
ii.             They are making the disclosure to the correct prescribed person

-          Wider disclosure: Disclosure to anyone else (i.e. the media) is only protected if the worker believes the information is substantially true, does not act for personal gain and acts reasonably in the circumstances. Unless the matter is "exceptionally serious", they must have already disclosed it to the employer or a prescribed person, or believe that, if they do, evidence would be destroyed or that they would suffer reprisals. Disclosure to that person must also be reasonable.

The law protects those who will share their knowledge with us. The lawyers are ready to protect, you.

All that is now needed is that those who work in prisons and other places of detention take a moment of stillness, and look to their hearts.

Talk to us. Drag the wrongs from the dungeons of darkness of secrecy into the light, so that we can see, judge – and stop these monstrous abuses.

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