A solicitor’s complaints about the unlawful detention of his client at HMP Wandsworth were treated with ‘institutional indifference’ by prison authorities, a judge has ruled.

Bartholomew Dalton of London firm Hickman & Rose had complained on behalf of a prisoner who at the magirstrates’ court had admitted an offence of battery. He was sentenced to 10 weeks’ imprisonment, but taking into account the time he had spent on remand, it was agreed he should then have been released. 

Instead, the offender was put on a prison bus and taken back to Wandsworth Prison, where he was told that it might take until 18 January ‘for the paperwork to be sorted out’, a judge said. 

This prompted Dalton to formally complain that evening that his client’s continued detention was unlawful. He called Wandsworth twice and spoke to an employee who refused to put him through to the duty governor, the court heard.  

Dalton emailed the Offender Management Unit (OMU) to put the prison on notice that he would be seeking an out-of-hours hearing before a High Court judge for the issue of a writ of habeas corpus, but there was no response.

HM Prison Wandsworth

HM Prison Wandsworth

Source: Alamy

In the early hours of 17 January, Mr Justice Pepperall gave leave for the issue of a writ of habeas corpus and ordered the governor of Wandsworth Prison, Katie Price, to produce the prisoner at the Royal Courts of Justice at 11am unless he had been released from custody before then.

The judge, in a judgment issued on Thursday, said: ‘In breach of my order, the governor failed to produce [the prisoner] before the court.’ Governor Price later said the OMU attempted to arrange transport to court ‘but no vehicle was available’. The duty governor, Governor James, later clarified she was aware a solicitor was trying to contact the prison but said she ‘was busy dealing with a medical emergency and unable to take the call’. 

But Mr Justice Pepperall said the incident revealed ‘a lamentable series of failings in the way in which the prison service deal with the release of prisoners and its apparent contempt for court orders.’

The judge said it was particularly serious in the light of the previous case of a 20-year-old man who was held in Wandsworth for three days after he had been acquitted at trial. He added: ‘It is worrying to see the dismissive way in which a solicitor’s representations were dealt with by the officers and duty governor at the prison.’ 

‘It is extraordinary that a solicitor’s insistence that a prisoner was being unlawfully detained and that, absent his immediate release, an out-of-hours habeas corpus application would be made to a High Court judge does not appear to have met the threshold of seriousness to trouble the duty governor. Instead the complaint appears to have been met with institutional indifference.’

The judge ruled the prisoner had been unlawfully detained and the governor should pay him indemnity costs.

Dalton told the Gazette: 'This is not the first time HMP Wandsworth has been criticised in relation to detaining individuals unlawfully.

'In this case, even once I made it clear that we would seek an urgent out of hours writ of habeas corpus, the prison staff continued to think it appropriate to ignore the issue and assume that they could deal with it at their own convenience. Sadly, I am not surprised by this, but am appalled at the prison’s “institutional indifference” to my client’s unlawful detention and the court’s orders.

'It is extraordinary that the judge felt it necessary to attach a penal notice to an order to the governor of a prison, who should perhaps feel lucky she did not face contempt proceedings.'


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