It is a mark of a civilised society that, save for the loss of their liberty, prisoners enjoy the same rights as any other citizen. A judge made that point in awarding substantial damages to a killer who was attacked and gravely injured by a fellow prisoner who was known to pose a serious risk to others.
Both the victim and his assailant were murderers amongst the small number of those serving ‘whole life’ sentences who are never considered for parole. He was in the exercise yard of a high-security prison when the attacker knocked him to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked him in the head. He suffered permanent brain damage and the loss of sight in his right eye.
Upholding his negligence claim against the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the judge noted that prison officers do a difficult and valuable job on behalf of society. The attacker was, however, well known for violent and disruptive behaviour. He was frustrated by a perceived delay in transferring him to another prison and had issued threats prior to the incident. He posed a high risk to staff and fellow prisoners and permitting him to associate with the victim amounted to a breach of the MoJ’s duty of care.
The judge also found that the MoJ had failed in the duty it owes every prisoner under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines the ban on torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The authorities knew, or ought to have known, that the victim would be at real and immediate risk of serious harm if placed in the exercise yard with the attacker. The victim was awarded £85,000 in damages to reflect his pain, suffering and loss of amenity.