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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prison Law Advice Centre

Prison Law Advice Centre

On the subject of this...

Many years ago I became a victim of my own success. There would be some mornings I would get up and go to make a cup of tea, and there would be a queue of maybe 6,8, or 10 prisoners outside my cell door seeking legal advice. And one morning I decided I would make it official by printing off a sign reading Prison Law Advice Centre and sticking it to the outside of my cell door. This upset a Prison Officer to such an extent he went and reported what I had done to the Governor, Dr Peter Bennett. He stated that, in his view, because I was not formally qualified, I should not refer to myself as a legal adviser. Armed with the relevant text book, I showed the relevant passage to the Governor. It stated that anyone could call himself an adviser. However, with this comes the responsibility to provide sound advice. Legally, I covered myself by always stating "Without Prejudice" before giving any advice. In prison, reputation is everything. The only prisoner to lose an adjudication was the one who had sought my advice and representation, but then decided to reject my advice and represented himself.

Prison Officer's would come up to me and ask whether I was going to win a particular case. They would place bets with each other beforehand on the outcome. One particular case raised the question 'When is a TV not a TV?'. There was a lot at stake on this one. The "Burglars" (Security) had found a computer monitor in an inmate's cell and charged him with being in possession of an unauthorised article, i.e., a TV. "He's bang to rights", argued Security. The Prison Officer's Association leant on the Governor to reach a guilty verdict, otherwise their authority would be damaged. The case went on every day, save for weekends, for 8 weeks. The Governor, privately, complained to me about the pressure he was under. During one of the many adjournments, I went to see the Head of Security. I told him that I suspected that the media might be interested in a few things. He asked for examples, and I replied that the inmate had to go through 6 gates manned by staff to get the computer from the workshop into his cell. Then, there is the question of the confidential data on the hard drive. Finally, I said that when the cell was searched the "Burglars" ran off with, in effect, the booby prize. That is, they failed to find the tuner. Without this it was not a television at all. The Head of Security said he wanted to confiscate the computer. We had no problem with that. He went and spoke with the Governor, and advised him that in the interests of security perhaps a finding of not guilty should be entered on the inmate's prison record.

One day a Prison Officer asked my advice, then another, etc. I would not advise in a case against prisoners. One Prison Officer faced a disciplinary charge for selling cards from his market stall to prisoners. He sought my advice, then asked if I would represent him before the Deputy Governor. I agreed, however, the Deputy Governor stated he would not allow this, even though the Prison Officer was entitled to representation by any person of his own choosing. Therefore, the Deputy Governor was left with no option but to dismiss the charge.

I never charged a fee. However, if a fee was offered I never refused to take it.

I am willing to advise the coalition, on the best way forward to implement Hirst v UK(No2) and rescue the country from the brink in Europe. However, I have been well advised that it must come at a price.

This sounds like the Berlin Wall, advice I have received said "You must cross over".

My adviser said, "They want this sealed airtight". I replied, I am the man to do just that. "If you work for the government, you will have to sign the Official Secrets Act".

I want to keep my integrity, a good measure of independence, and not be fettered. There are wider constitutional reforms in the pipeline, just as well I studied constitutional law...


Gawain Towler said...

You are living through your own interesting times. If you advise the Government on this the likelihood of them taking what you say seriously, must be balanced against your personal intergrity.

Touh call, but on this onme, I suspect that you have worked too long and too hard not to take up the challange. It is times like this that you discover your own mettle.
Good luck.

Charles Cowling said...

Yes, really tough. Your mind will make itself up.

Your recent, retrospective posts have been fascinating. And admirable.