So grateful to so many supporters who send us letters they wrote to their Members of Parliament or other elected officials in defence of Julian Assange. These letters matter greatly for the success of the campaign to free him. Please keep writing and lobbying your elected representatives letting them know your will, your opinion regarding the way Julian Assange is being treated in this country, asking them to act for his release. It also acts as an accountability check to the power they exercise letting them know we are watching, monitoring, alerting regarding the conditions of his detention, already condemned by experts as tortuous.
Lucy Frazer QC MP
Minister of State for Justice
Tulip Siddiq MP
House of Commons London SW1W 0AA
Dear Tulip, MoJ ref: MC 084589 28 January 2021
THE WELFARE OF MR JULIAN ASSANGE
Thank you for your letter of 11 January to the Home Secretary, sent on behalf of a number of your constituents of Hampstead and Kilburn, regarding their concerns over the current situation of Mr Julian Assange, currently remanded at HMP Belmarsh.
I am responding in my capacity of 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 my officials working with the Long Term and High Security Estate (LTHSE), of which HMP Belmarsh is part.
As has been widely published in the media, Mr Assange remains detained in HMP Belmarsh in relation to an extradition request. The issue of whether a person is remanded in custody or granted bail is a matter for the courts, not HMPPS and it would not be appropriate for me to offer comment on the guilt, sentencing or extradition of any prisoner.
However, as has been widely published in the media, I can confirm that on 4 January the District Judge gave judgment in the extradition case of Mr Assange. She decided the bars to extradition in UK law applied in the case and discharged Mr Assange from the extradition proceedings. The Crown Prosecution Service, who act on behalf of the United States, have 14 days from the date of the judgment to seek leave to appeal to the High Court against the decision.
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. HMPPS takes very seriously its duty of care to ensure all prisoners are able to serve or await their sentences in a secure and decent environment. This includes the completion of a risk assessment upon each prisoner’s reception into custody, and extra measures which 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.
HMPPS staff would not take any action that would deliberately increase a prisoner’s likelihood of contracting the virus. HMPPS’ response to the pandemic, including strategies to protect vulnerable prisoners, has been set out in the National Framework for Prison Regimes and Services, which is available to view through the Government website: 2 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-national-framework-for-prison-regimes-andservices.
Since the Prime Minister’s announcement of further national restrictions on 3 January, all adult prisons in England, regardless of security category, are currently operating a stage four regime to reduce contact between people and therefore reduce the chance of transmission. Our focus across prisons of all categories will be on the welfare of prisoners during this time. HMPPS is continuing key work and wellbeing checks, and essential work will continue. This is a step HMPPS has taken to manage the current risk but this change will be reviewed regularly with a view of returning to a stage three regime when it is safe to do so.
I would also like to assure you that, as with all HMPPS facilities, conditions within HMP Belmarsh are 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 those detained and the public.
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. 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.
NHS England and the Welsh Government have primary responsibility for the commissioning of healthcare services in public prisons and 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/guidance/healthcare-for-offenders#national-partnershipagreement-for-prison-healthcare-in-england-2018-2021.
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 population and with patient confidentiality. HMPPS is committed through the National Partnership Agreement to safeguarding the public health of those in prison. Additionally, if prisoners are unhappy with any aspect of their custodial care, they 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. More importantly, 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. 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 I am sorry that
I am unable to comment specifically on Mr Assange, but hope that this offers you a sufficient level of assurance regarding the standard of care afforded to prisoners in our custody.
LUCY FRAZER QC M