Our Legal Cases
The Howard League legal team brings cases on behalf of individual young people, in our own name or through interventions to help shape and change the law.
Isolation and inadequate access to education of a child at Feltham prison
R (AB) v Secretary of State for Justice, 2017
In April 2017, the High Court heard a challenge brought by the Howard League on behalf of a child who had been kept in conditions of solitary confinement for a prolonged period. The Howard League argued that such treatment was inhuman and degrading. In July 2017 the Court decided that certain periods of the child’s isolation and the inadequate access to education breached prison rules. It did not accept that the child’s isolation for over 22 hours a day for periods of over 15 days at a stretch were inhuman and degrading.
The legal team regularly receives calls to our advice line about children held in isolation in prison.
Supreme Court rules distribution of approved premises discriminates against women
Coll v Secretary of State for Justice, 2017
The Howard League intervened to provide expert evidence about women’s experiences of approved premises (APs). The Supreme Court ruled that the distribution of approved premises discriminates against women.
Living in APs may be made a condition of release on licence for certain prisoners. They are all single-sex establishments. There are 94 APs for men, located throughout England and Wales, with several in London. There are only six for women, in Bedford, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Preston and Reading, and none in London or in Wales. This means that women are much more likely than men to be placed in APs that are far from their homes and families. They may suffer long-term disadvantages in terms of accommodation, rehabilitation and employment, as well as in re-establishing their relationships in their community after release.
Court of Appeal rules legal aid cuts affecting prisoners inherently unfair
R (The Howard League and the Prisoners’ Advice Service) v the Lord Chancellor, 2017
Together with the Prisoners’ Advice Service, the Howard League successfully challenged cuts to legal aid for prisoners implemented in 2013. The Court of Appeal ruled that the cuts unlawful because they were inherently unfair. The ruling is an important step forward in making sure that people in prison move through the system more safely and more efficiently.
Supreme Court case on solitary confinement
R (on the application of Bourgass) v Secretary of State for Justice, 2015
The Howard League intervened in this landmark Supreme Court decision that considered the lawfulness of solitary confinement in prison. The Howard League provided expert evidence and legal argument to assist the court with the wider picture of prison conditions and the use of segregation, and make the case as to why safeguards are so important when a prisoner is segregated.
High Court finds local authority’s delay in assessing and plan to help vulnerable young woman unlawful
R (on the application of D) v Cardiff City Council, 2015
The Howard League brought a judicial review on behalf of D, a vulnerable care leaver. D was a 22 year old young woman with a significant history of abuse, mental health issues and contact with the criminal justice system. The Court held that the local authority had unlawfully delayed in completing an assessment of her needs and plan for her ongoing care and support.
In light of the judgment the Cardiff City Council agreed to complete a detailed care plan for D’s future.
High Court rules 17 year-old children’s lack of entitlement to appropriate adults at police station unlawful
R (on the application of HC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, 2013
The Howard League intervened in this case about the rights of 17 year olds to appropriate adults at the police station. The Howard League provided expert evidence and argument about a number of seventeen-year-olds who are arrested and taken into police custody, demanding that they should be treated as children. Before this judgment, children aged 17 were dealt with as adults, which meant they did not automatically receive the support of an appropriate adult to help them through the legal process. In many cases, parents were not even told that their son or daughter had been arrested.
This landmark judgment was a major milestone in the Howard League for Penal Reform’s campaign to remove a serious legal anomaly in the Codes to the Police and Crime Evidence Act (PACE) 1984. The law was out of kilter with domestic and international provisions, which recognise 17 year olds as children.
MA v Ashfield prison, the Independent Adjudicator and the Secretary of State for Justice, 2013
The Howard League challenged the treatment of seven children in a privately run prison. This ground-breaking case highlighted serious flaws in the disciplinary process in the prison, as well as finding that the prison engaged in unlawful practices of isolating children without regard to their own rules.
The Howard League established the rights of young people in such situations, including affirming their specific rights to certain elements of a regime – for example, access to the gym.
M v Chief Magistrate, 2010
The Howard League challenged the decision of an Independent Adjudicator to impose extra days on a child for breaking prison rules. The extra days meant that the child would not be released in time to accrue rights as a care leaver under the Children Act 1989. The High Court quashed the decision on the basis that denying the child this opportunity to get additional support from social services until he was 21 years old (at least) contravened the welfare principle. The Court also emphasised the importance of children being actively encouraged to get legal representation at disciplinary hearings where extra days can be added.
Representation at adjudications is vital for ensuring that a young or vulnerable prisoner’s interests are properly represented.
R (M) v Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council, 2008
The Howard League represented M, a vulnerable child in prison and took her case to the House of Lords. The judgment established that, where a child appears to need accommodation, that child must be referred to children’s services for an assessment of their needs, even if they initially present to the council’s housing department. Following the case, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Children, Schools and Families issued joint guidance aimed at ensuring that there were “no gaps” between housing services and children’s services. This is crucial because it helps ensure children get the support they require and helps to prevent children ending up without a home.
K v Parole Board, 2006
The Howard League represented K, a vulnerable 14 year old placed in a secure children’s home. K was being considered for release by the Parole Board. The Howard League challenged the decision to refuse him an oral hearing before the Parole Board. The Court’s decision underlined the importance of an oral hearing, especially where children are concerned and paved the way for a progressive policy by the Parole Board to grant all children oral hearings automatically.
R(J) v. Caerphilly County Borough Council, 2005
The Howard League represented a boy who was a care leaver. He required a meaningful assessment and plan but did not have one. The judgment made it very clear that care plans should contain a detailed operational plan of who will do what and by when and how. Mr Justice Munby addressed the issue of the uncooperative child, warning local authorities that even where a child does not cooperate, the local authorities’ duties are not negated: it must do its best. The judgment also confirmed that assessments that do not meet these standards can be challenged through the courts. The case has been very helpful in making sure that young people get the support they need.
R (on the application of SP) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, 2004
The Howard League Represented a vulnerable 17 year old girl who was held in segregation for almost three weeks without an opportunity to challenge the allegation that caused her to be segregated. The Judgment made it clear that children facing segregation in order to preserve good order and discipline must be given the opportunity to make representations before they are segregated. This challenge led to changes in the Prison Service policy of placing children in segregation or solitary confinement.
This landmark case found that the Children Act applies to children in custody and led to a raft of child protection policies and procedures being introduced to prisons. Previously it was widely thought that children’s rights stopped at the prison gates. Following this judgment children are no longer excluded from the care and support of the state simply because they are in custody. This was one of the first cases to confirm that the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) can be used to ‘proclaim, reaffirm or elucidate’ the scope of other fundamental rights. As a consequence it is a fine example as to how case law can be used to progress not only the application of human rights but also how human rights can develop in accordance with changing international standards.