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Secret Jails

December 13, 2010 permalink

British MP John Hemming raised an issue in parliament mentioned several times before on fixcas — jailing people while keeping their names secret. This is never done with the likes of Charles Manson, since jailers have pride for keeping this monster off the streets. Secrecy hides the jailers' shame for incarcerating an innocent person. Before getting to that issue, Mr Hemming mentions some constituents who have been threatened for speaking to their elected representative, Mr Hemming himself.



Session 2010-11

Taken before the Backbench Business Committee on Monday 29 November 2010

Members present: Natascha Engel (Chair), Jane Ellison, John Hemming, Philip Hollobone, Ian Mearns

[ discussion of other topics skipped ]

John Hemming: I am looking for two different substantive motions to address two important issues. We don’t have time before Christmas, so this is obviously an issue for us to consider for after Christmas. Because I am a member of the Committee and cannot participate in the discussions, now is a good opportunity for me to present evidence and talk about the issues. At a later stage, the Committee can consider the matter without me being present. Obviously, if you need me for the quorum, this proposal cannot be put forward.

I am sure that colleagues are aware of the problem of bullied constituents, and I have two particular cases-that of Andrew France who has been threatened by Birmingham City Council and was told that his daughter will be taken into care if he continued to talk to me; and that of Noreen Akhtar, who has also been very badly treated by Birmingham City Council. The City Council threatened one of my constituents and her sister that if they continued talking to me about her case, which is in the Court of Protection, they would be jailed themselves. Both cases are dreadful. I’ve circulated information to many hon. Members about this, and a number have come back to me, expressing concern because they, too, have encountered situations in which constituents have been threatened in an attempt to stop them talking to their MP. Jim Dobbin also had this with a family court case. Another colleague told me today about a family court case in which the local authority said, "You can’t talk to your MP." Richard Bacon had this with a different sort of case. They are working quite closely with me on these issues.

I would like to put forward a substantive motion to refer both the France and Akhtar cases to the Standards and Privileges Committee. A discussion on this issue has been going on for some time. What I’m talking about would take only 15 minutes, so a large amount of time is not required. I’m now doing a petition in support of this around the House and so far I have about 40 responses in support, without trying particularly hard. I’m working towards getting majority support from the House to achieve this.

That’s the first matter. Would you like me to tell you what the second one is before I-

Q11 Chair: Yes.

John Hemming: I’ll explain the second one. Noreen Akhtar is a good example. This is a lady who has mild learning disabilities, and when I looked at the court paperwork, it was clear that the Mental Capacity Act 2005 hadn’t been followed. These are all historic decisions. There is an element of there being future decisions on this case, but the historic-

Q12 Chair: John, as you know as a member of the Committee, what we’re really interested in is a pitch for what it is that you’re after, because we have the motion here.

John Hemming: What I’m after is setting up a committee to investigate secret prisoners, because there are a lot of secret prisoners in this country, in various categories. You get those who are jailed for criminal offences but whose names are not allowed to be revealed, such as Martin McCabe, who has now been released. You get those such as Yvonne Goder who are jailed for contempt of court in the Court of Protection. You get people, such as Noreen Akhtar and Matthew Hawkesworth, whose liberty is removed for care reasons. These processes are not properly held to account and it is Parliament’s job to do that. If we establish a parliamentary committee-a committee of investigation-to look at these issues, we can hold the system to account properly.

Q13 Chair: So the representation that you’re making to the Committee now is for a short debate?

John Hemming: A motion and a short debate on secret prisoners, to establish a committee of inquiry for us to look at secret prisoners, in the various categories.

Q14 Chair: Which other Members are supporting you?

John Hemming: On that issue, I would have to do a bit more work. I thought that now was a good opportunity to mention this matter-even though, obviously, we can’t do anything until the new year-simply because there aren’t any other people at the Committee. I think the issue of people being jailed in secret and the banning of the reporting in the media of what’s going on and why they’re in prison-why their liberty has gone-is one that Parliament should look at. I am well aware of other hon. Members who are concerned about these issues. I intend to circulate information and find out who else would wish to sit on such a committee.

Q15 Jane Ellison: As you know, one of the questions we ask people is whether they have sought another route. Would the issue of secret prisoners not be appropriate, potentially, for a select committee inquiry?

John Hemming: The difficulty with a select committee inquiry is that if the Ministry of Justice wanted, say, to look at the Official Solicitor’s office, it can’t look at individual cases, and the Official Solicitor refuses to respond to correspondence from me on individual cases. His argument is that he’s not accountable to Parliament. So it needs the collective authority of a committee to get answers from the Official Solicitor.

Q16 Chair: Have you put in for an Adjournment debate on this?

John Hemming: That wouldn’t achieve anything, because it’s just a debate and we need a committee of inquiry with the ability to send for papers.

Q17 Jane Ellison: But you are the master when it comes to procedure. I’m surprised that you think that we could have a debate and pass a motion setting up a new committee. I’m obviously a new Member and I don’t know, but I would have thought that you needed to do that through other channels.

John Hemming: No, it is done through a substantive motion. I’ve drafted the form of words. It’s based on the form of words used for the committee of inquiry into the arrest of Damian Green.

Chair: Is there anybody else who wants to ask a question? No? Thank you very much.

John Hemming: I presume that goes into the pending box until I’m not here.

Chair: That concludes the representation session.

Source: British Parliament