Reunited – Against All Odds

Written 18th November 2016 by Ruth Peters

Lisa Burton, specialist prison lawyer, explains the importance of prison service records being kept up to date with a particularly moving story of an extremely vulnerable client’s Parole Board hearing success.

I recently represented a client who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006 and was directed to serve a tariff for a period of 8 years and 6 months. Such tariff expired in January 2015.

The client suffers from progressive multiple sclerosis and in the months leading up to his tariff expiry, he had a number of strokes which required hospitalisation. The client at this time was unrepresented and an oral Parole Board hearing was listed to take place in May 2016. However, this did not take place as the client was an inpatient in hospital on the date of such hearing.

Specialist Prison Law Representation

The Parole Board advised within their deferral that the client should seek legal representation and as a result his Offender Supervisor contacted me to refer to the matter in summer of this year.

I made arrangements to visit the client and it was apparent that he had serious physical disabilities which resulted in him having serious difficulties with communication. It proved very difficult for him to speak to me effectively and he was also immobile and required support to meet all of his care needs within the prison setting.

I immediately began working closely with social services to arrange an appropriate placement for his release into the community to present to the Parole Board. However, I was immediately presented with difficulties as it was unclear as to what local connections the client had or if any family contact was being maintained.

Out of Date Contact Details

I requested the next of kin addresses as held by the prison service, only to find that these were all out of date and had not been updated for some time. When a further local authority rejected my client’s application for funding based on him not having any local connections, I then decided (with the client’s permission) to track down his family. This proved a mammoth task.

I spent an entire day before the client’s Parole Board hearing reviewing the register of births, marriages and deaths in order to see if I could match any of the names my client had provided. Eventually I was able to establish his mother’s maiden name and search for siblings born in similar years and I then extensively perused Facebook and LinkedIn to see if I could locate any such persons.I also made extensive telephone enquiries with individuals with matching names and, eventually, on the evening prior to his Parole Board hearing, a brother who lived abroad made contact with me.

The brother of my client advised that he had maintained regular telephone contact, however, it stopped a couple of years ago out of the blue for no apparent reason. Sadly, he was not to know that my client, in fact, did not have the physical ability to contact him due to a serious deterioration in his health.

As the prison records did not have up-to-date contact information for his next of kin, the prison had no way of notifying the family. The address the prison held for our client’s next of kin was his father’s. However unfortunately , since my client’s deterioration, his father had been placed in a nursing home due to vascular detention.

Parole Board Hearing

The following day the Parole Board held my client’s oral hearing. Sadly my client could not attend in person due to his medical condition but the Parole Board visited my client in the healthcare department following the hearing to advise they were granting release.

I have since been in regular contact with the family of the client and their details have now been passed to the prison service. It is hoped that the prison will arrange a “special” visit in the healthcare department very shortly.

Should the Prison Service routinely ensure next of kin details are updated?

It would appear that the prison service do not, as a matter of routine, ensure prison’s next of kin records are kept up-to-date. I feel this is something all prisoners and families should be made aware of in order that they can voluntarily keep the prison service appraised of any changes to next of kin’s details.

Whilst with my assistance, my client was able to reconnect with his family, this sadly may not have happened and it could have been a completely different story.

Lisa Burton – Specialist Prison Lawyer

Lisa Burton is a specialist consultant prison lawyer with Olliers Solicitors. Lisa is a highly experienced lawyer who specialises in Parole Board representations (both written and oral), re-categorisation, OASys and sentence planning and representations to the European Court of Human Rights.

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