Monday, 26 July 2010

It's my party...

I have read the “Churchill Speech” by Justice Minister, Crispin Blunt, which he gave to the NACRO, West Norwood Centre, on 22 July 2010. It is a fine speech, extending to eleven pages. In my view, Crispin Blunt should feel proud of its content and delivery. And yet, he came under attack by the Sun and Daily Mail when they focused on a small section of the speech headed Arts and events in Prisons. The internet joined in the affray, in particular Iain Dale’s Diary, Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home, and Jonathan Sheppard of Tory Radio. Then David Cameron reacted. Notably Kenneth Clarke has remained silent in this affair. The Sun and Daily Mail gleefully reported on Saturday that Cameron has slapped down Blunt.

Our Criminal Justice System, of which prisons are but a part, is in a fine old mess. So, it is essential that reforms are implemented. In Hirst v UK (No2), the Prisoners Votes Case, the Grand Chamber decided that it was not acceptable to deny convicted prisoners their human right to vote based purely upon what might offend public opinion. By the same token, the MoJ should not shy away from much needed prison reforms on the basis that they might offend the owners and/or editors of such as the Sun and Daily Mail.

In The Fear Factory, it was disclosed how certain elements of the media deliberately distorted the news for its own ends and in the process had some politicians reacting to the headlines and editorials in a knee-jerk fashion. In his speech Blunt attacked Jack Straw for doing precisely this. It is superbly ironic that it now appears that Cameron is guilty of the same kind of knee-jerkism. These newspapers are bought and read by voters, nevertheless democracy is not best served by politicians acting irrationally to irrational reporting. Especially when the media are being fed such stories by the militant Prison Officer’s Association which is against prison reforms. The same media rather conveniently has ignored reporting upon Prison Service Instruction 37/2010 which is titled "Prisoners’ Access to the Media". A more apt title would be denying prisoners' access to the media! The PSI flies in the face of R (on the application of) Hirst v Secretary of State for the Home Department, CO/3189/2001. Kenneth Clarke's media gag on prisoners is unlawful. It is worth remembering that the last time an attempt was made to silence the Prisoners Voice, it cost the taxpayers £112m to repair and refurbish Strangeways Prison following the riot of April 1990.

It is not clear whether David Cameron’s knee-jerk reaction was simply a response to the media response to Arts and events in Prisons, or whether he was also furious about Crispin Blunt’s joke comparing the inmates and the institution of the Bullingdon Club with H.M. Prison Bullingdon. It is said, truth hurts. In The Fear Factory, Dominic Grieve admits that he has committed the criminal offences of assault and criminal damage.

I blogged at the time that I could not see how given his confession he was fit to become the next Secretary of State for Justice. Sensibly, he was moved aside by the powers that be and Kenneth Clarke was instead given the job. Which begs the question: ‘Why are we hearing from the oil rag and not the engine driver?’. If everything has to be first cleared by Number 10, we might as well do away with all the various departments and return to Blair’s Sofa Cabinet!

John Hirst, Jailhouse Lawyer

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