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Prison authorities must reconsider their refusal to grant inmate’s request for a laptop

Beggs, Re Judicial Review [2016] CSOH 153

In this Scottish case, a prisoner challenged the decision by prison authorities to refuse to provide him with his own personal laptop.  The judge ruled on the decision-making process and HMP Edinburgh would be required to consider the prisoner’s request afresh.

In 2001, the petitioner, Mr Beggs, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  During his imprisonment, he made several requests to be allowed to purchase a laptop.  He intended to use it for educational purposes and to prepare responses to his lawyers regarding criminal and civil actions. 

The policies governing access to prison laptops were restrictive and resources were limited.  Access would only be provided if prisoners required the laptop for legal work and would not be provided unless the individual could show real prejudice to his case. 

The Scottish Prison Complaints Commissioner had recommended that Mr Beggs should be provided with a word processor and printer.  He commenced judicial review proceedings over the failure to comply with his request.  These proceedings were halted when the authorities agreed to provide him with computer facilities and a printer.  However, the laptop he had access to was communal and another prisoner was often using it.  Mr Beggs made numerous requests to have his own personal laptop all of which were refused.  In March 2014, Mr Beggs was moved to HMP Edinburgh, where again his request was refused, on the basis that his case was not exceptional.

However, Lord Malcolm found in favour of the petitioner.  The policies applied in the refusal were concerned with prison-owned communal laptops and not personal laptops.  Therefore, they could not be relied on in the refusal.  The case was exceptional given the early positive response of the Prison Complaints Commissioner, the undertaking agreed in the first judicial review proceedings and the initial finding of the governor that ‘compelling circumstances' existed.  HMP Edinburgh would therefore have to reconsider its decision.

Read UK Human Rights Blog here.

Prisoners' Rights