I am extremely grateful to all those people who write to their Members of Parliament urging them to highlight their concerns for the welfare of Julian Assange and share their response. Some MPs forward their constituent concerns with the relevant government minister on this occasion the Minister for State of Justice Lucy Frazer QC. Please read her response. In between the ‘legalese’ you will read her claiming that the Extradition case is a matter for the courts. In such highly political and politicised case it is naive to claim that the courts remain independent of political influence. Let’s not forget we had the CIA operating hand in glove with UK intelligence outside and inside the Ecuadorian Embassy for years. Still, it is imperative that supporters continue to write bringing attention to his welfare and protest at his treatment. Here is what the Minister had to say to Mims Davies Member of Parliament for Mid Sussex:
Dear Mims, 30th April 2020
THE WELFARE OF MR JULIAN ASSANGE
Thank you for your email of 17 March addressed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Correspondence mailbox, on behalf of your constituent, ****************** regarding the welfare of Mr Julian Assange, currently remanded at HMP Belmarsh.
I am responding in my capacity as Minister for Prisons and Probation.
As a responsible Government Agency, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) are duty bound to comply with legislation within the Data Protection Laws in a way to protect the personal information of all those who live, work in and visit any of our establishments. It would therefore not be appropriate to offer comment on individual prisoners within HMPPS, and I am therefore unable to provide you with a full response to the issues you have raised. Your concerns have, however, been noted and shared with the Governor at HMP Belmarsh.
The primary role of a prison is to hold safely and securely in custody those persons sentenced by the courts for the crimes that they have committed or those awaiting sentencing. The punishment of being sent to prison is the loss of liberty that results. The sentences awarded by the courts do not include the requirement that prisoners go to prison to receive punishment and there is rightly a public expectation that prisons should be clean, decent places that incentivise prisoners to behave well and engage with the rehabilitative opportunities that are available. This premise makes no distinction whether a prisoner is serving a whole life sentence or a shorter one, or interested in rehabilitation or otherwise. All prisoners are treated with due regard to the principles of equality and fairness, mirroring the expectations that we hold for our wider society.
Whilst it is correct that Mr Assange is being held in a high security prison, HMP Belmarsh is a local prison which serves mainly the Central Criminal Court and a number of Magistrates Courts in South East London, in addition to Crown and Magistrates Courts in South West Essex. The establishment has a dual role of holding both remand and sentenced prisoners and houses all categories of prisoners.
I would like to assure you that prisoners are not detained in solitary confinement, nor in any manner which infringes their human rights or would be in contravention of international law and, as with all HMPPS facilities, HMP Belmarsh is subject to independent scrutiny from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), whose role is to report on conditions and treatment of prisoners and other detainees, promoting the concept of “healthy establishments” in which staff work effectively to reduce re-offending and achieve positive outcomes for prisoners and the public. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is appointed by the Justice Secretary from outside of the Prison Service and the Inspectorate’s work constitutes an important part of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Optional Protocol to the United Nation’s convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment (OPCAT). This protocol requires signatory states to have in place regular independent inspections of places of detention.
HMPPS works to provide a safe environment where offenders are encouraged and supported to engage with the opportunities afforded to them to address their rehabilitation, ranging from educational courses and offending behaviour programmes to employment opportunities, with additional support being provided to address any medical or mental health needs. Additionally, in accordance with the Access to Digital Evidence policy framework, prisoners are able to request digital equipment for their legal preparation where they can demonstrate a real need. This policy exists in part to make clear the expectations of HMPPS surrounding prisoners’ access to digital evidence in the light of obligations under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Prisoners are entitled to possession of their legal documents and letters between prisoners and their legal advisers are treated as privileged and handled in confidence in line with Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 49-2011 Prisoner Communication Services and PSI 04/2016 The Interception of Communication in Prisons and Security Measures.
Visits from legal advisors, as well as social, are facilitated in accordance with PSI 16- 2011 Providing Visits and Services to Visitors. I can also confirm that every prisoner is risk assessed upon their reception into custody and extra measures are put into place to protect prisoners where there are concerns for their welfare. Prisoners can expect to be treated with dignity and respect during their time in custody, and will receive the necessary support to safeguard their wellbeing for the duration of their sentence. On the wider issue of matters of public health, the Ministry of Justice is not responsible for the commissioning of healthcare services in public prisons and this is the responsibility of NHS England and the Welsh Government. The commitment to working with health and justice partners is set out in the National Partnership Agreement for Prison Healthcare in England, which was published in April 2018 and is available for the public to view through the Government website: https://www.gov.uk. Prisoners do however receive the same healthcare and treatment as anyone outside of the prison.
It is left to NHS clinicians/practitioners to use their professional judgement on a case by case basis based on equity of care provided to the general public and with patient confidentiality. HMPPS is committed through the National Partnership Agreement to safeguarding the public health of those in prison.
I should highlight that if prisoners are unhappy with any aspect of their custodial care, they are able to raise a complaint in accordance with HMPPS Prisoner Complaints policy framework. This process provides a fair and effective system for dealing with prisoner complaints, is designed to promote procedural justice and helps to ensure that the Prison Service meets its obligation of dealing fairly, openly and humanely with prisoners. Using this process will not only ensure that a prisoner will receive a reply within a set timeframe but also offers them an internal avenue of appeal if they are unhappy with the initial response.
Additionally, once internal avenues have been exhausted and if they remain unhappy with responses received, it also offers them recourse to write to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) to seek an independent review of their complaint. 3 You can find a copy of this policy framework by visiting the Government website, using the link I have provided: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prisoner-complaints-policy-framework.
As I am sure you will understand, it would not be appropriate for me to offer comment on the guilt or sentencing of any prisoner, as it is for the courts to pass judgement, not HMPPS. The same principle applies to the possible extradition of any prisoner to another country, as this decision is not within my control, nor the control of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: extradition is also ultimately a matter for the courts. However, I can assure you that extradition requests bear no relevance to the conditions in which a prisoner is kept whilst located within HMPPS. All prisoners have the same rights to a decent, safe and healthy regime.
Copies of the PSIs which I have mentioned above are available for Mr Ewing to view through the Justice website: https://www.justice.gov.uk/offenders/psis. Additionally, further information about life in prison can also be found on the Government website at: https://www.gov.uk/life-in-prison.
I am sorry that I am unable to comment specifically on Mr Assange but I hope you understand the need to protect prisoners’ personal information.
LUCY FRAZER QC MP