Grey Hair in Barlinnie

Some time ago Glasgow Chamber of Commerce organised one of their Behind the Scene Events this time to Barlinnie Prison. I suppose most of us have little idea what to expect in visiting a prison but I left with ambivalent feelings which were pretty strong.

Barlinnie is of course a large local prison receiving prisoners from the courts in the west of Scotland. Very few prisons have gained such notoriety as Barlinnie has, in its long and murky history. It is one of the oldest functioning prisons in the world meaning the longstanding Victorian building has been holding ne’r’do’wells for more than 132 years. In January 1987 a riot in the prison made worldwide news with five staff being taken hostage but eventually being let go with little or no harm done. It is also famous for its “Special Unit” which opened in 1973 and closed in 1993 where some of the most violent offenders were offered opportunities to attempt to rehabilitate themselves.  Not everyone went to Barlinnie to serve a prison sentence and between the years of 1947 and 1960 10 people were hanged including one of Scotland’s most notorious serial killers Peter Manuel. In 2002 one of the world’s most revered leaders Nelson Mandela visited Barlinnie to speak to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to help to secure his release.

But here we were on a wintry morning having signed in, handed in our mobile phones, handbags etc and going through the equivalent of airport security to go into the prison for our guided tour which included cells, food hall, medical facilities, a testosterone filled gym, hairdressers, kitchens, work training areas , gardens and meeting prisoners.

It was like entering a micro society of males. So it probably is no surprise that prisons face the same challenges in terms of demographic population as society in general with the prison population becoming increasingly elderly. In a recent article published in the Sunday Herald it was highlighted that offenders aged over 65 in custody had increased from 88 in 2010/11 to 152 by October 2016,with those aged 60-64 increasing from 92 to 136 and those aged 55-59 growing from 150 to 265.

As the article states “All of this is at a time when the prison population showed a slight decline, mainly due to a reduction in young offender numbers. As the years pass, it will no longer be troubled young men but convicted old men who’ll pose more issues for our prisons”

We cannot bury our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that there is an increase in offenders in prison for crimes of historical sexual abuse and in the light of the recent scandals in football there may be much more to be exposed of a very dark past in our society. Given the judgemental attitudes in prison life, protecting offenders due to the nature of their crime where angry young men would love to punish the dirty old men as they would see it, can be extremely challenging let alone dealing with the specialist care frail and elderly prisoners may need. Some young prisoners will have been victims of abuse, with a culture of denial hiding it and for many their pain is articulated in anti-social behaviour.

When I left the prison I felt saddened with a sense of hopelessness. Prisons reflect society in many ways not just as regards age. It is I believe time to look anew at our prisons for young as well as old.

This opinion is entirely my own.

The Tumbling Lassie Ball 2017

I just received an email regarding the Tumbling Lassie Ball 2017 in aid of victims of modern slavery and people trafficking. The name of the Ball comes from a little known case Reid v Scot of Harden decided in the Court of Session in 1687. It was about a little girl, a stage gymnast, who ran away from her manager, a Mr Reid, because she was physically worn out by her work, dancing as part of his travelling stage show. She had taken shelter with Scott of Harden and his wife but Reid sued the Scots claiming he had bought the girl from her mother and that she belonged to him. The Scottish Court of Session refused Reid’s claim with the case report declaring “But we have no slaves in Scotland, and mothers cannot sell their bairns.”

Yet centuries later we have modern slavery. The definition of this taken from Modern Slavery Facts-Walk Free is “when one person possesses or controls another person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty , with the intention of exploiting that person through their use , profit, transfer or disposal”.

Here are some very unpalatable facts also contained in an information sheet by the Walk Free Foundation.

  • 8 million people are enslaved
  • 68% are subject to forced labour
  • Nearly 1 in 3 detected victims of slavery is a child
  • Slavery is illegal in almost every nation on earth but still exists everywhere
  • Over half victims of slavery are women and girls
  • Slave labour contributes to the production of at least 136 goods from 74 countries worldwide.
  • The majority of victims are trafficked by someone they know and trust
  • Victims of slavery can be as young as 5 or 6 years old.

On the 28 May 2016 The Guardian published an article “A Slave in Scotland: I fell into a trap-and I couldn’t get out”. In 2009 Abdul Azad left his wife and baby son in Bangladesh expecting to start work as a chef in a restaurant in London. This was arranged by Shamsul Arefin whom he had met after responding to an advert in a Dhaka paper offering jobs as a chef in the UK. With the promise of a good life and a better job Azad borrowed £15,000 from moneylenders and raised another £5000 by selling his family land, his business and finally his wife’s jewellery to pay Arefin his sponsorship fee.

When Azad arrived in London he was told by Arefin to get a coach to Glasgow and then another bus to Ballachulish where he was taken to the Stewart Hotel. He spent months there as the sole employee , cleaning, cooking and gardening for up to 22 hours a day seven days a week for which he was never paid more than £100 a month which was just enough to send something home. Other Bangladeshi men began to arrive at the hotel to be treated as Azad having also paid large amounts of money to Arefin for sponsorship.

One day Arefin had left the hotel and the trafficked men took the one bus to Fort William and walked into the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and asked for help. A few weeks later the hotel was raided by the UK Border Agency and Arefin’s sponsor licence was revoked.

The story however does not have a happy ending. The men got the help of a case worker Jim Laird of Migrant Help and the Home Office agreed that they could stay in the UK on short term temporary visas if they agreed to be witnesses in a criminal investigation into Arefin and the Stewart Hotel. It took five years for the criminal case to come to trial. In July 2015 Shamsul Arefin was found guilty of human trafficking under the Asylum and Immigration Act and was given a three year prison sentence. But this conviction did little to help his former workers who are still fighting to stay in the UK while they try to claim compensation or be able to work to pay off their debts back home. As the article has said the men are “All terrified that their lives, and those of their families, will be at risk if they are forced to return, unable to pay their debts.”

The proceeds from The Tumbling Lassie Ball 2017 will be shared between TARA which works to support victims of trafficking in Scotland and the International Justice Mission, which works with local lawyers in the developing world to fight slavery.

I hope that the Ball will be a resounding success.

Another Smoke Free Space

From the 5th December 2016 smoking was banned in cars carrying children aged 18 and under. The new legislation will mean fines of up to £100 for anyone who lights up in a car where there is a child as a passenger.

MSPs unanimously voted to introduce the ban in December last year. The Smoking Prohibition (Children in Motor Vehicles) Bill was introduced by Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume whose mother died of cancer caused by second hand smoking.  He told MSPs that the concentrations of harmful tobacco particles in the confines of a car were far greater than from smoke from a bar, where smoking has already been banned. He added that:

“Around 60,000 children are put in this position each week in Scotland.” “This legislation will, of course, address that situation and help to ensure that all our young people have the best and healthiest start to life.”

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of health charity Ash Scotland said:

“Children have smaller airways, breathe faster, and their lungs and immune systems are still developing so they are especially vulnerable to health damage from second-hand smoke.”

“Toxic particles can reach harmful concentrations within one minute of lighting a cigarette inside a car, and this law builds on the success of Scotland’s smoke – free public places legislation to offer even more protection for children, who often don’t have a choice about breathing in second-hand smoke.”

“It is also an important step towards the Scottish Government’s vision for achieving a tobacco-free generation, putting smoking out of fashion, by 2034”.

Dr Peter Fowlie, Officer for Scotland for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Care said:

“Scottish Parliament’s move to ban smoking in cars carrying children not only protects children from terrible conditions linked to second-hand smoke such as bronchiolitis, pneumonia and asthma, but also sends a strong signal that smoking is not cool-it kills”.

But smoker’s group Forest have argued that the new legislation represents a worrying intrusion into people’s private lives. Simon Clark their director said:

“We have always felt that legislation is very heavy handed and completely unnecessary as the vast majority of smokers are considerate and do know that it is not a good idea to smoke in a very confined space like a car with children present, and they simply don’t do it.”

He said the ban on smoking in cars with children was important for the anti-smoking lobby as it is the first time that smoking has been banned in a private place. He added:

“This is a stepping stone towards further prohibition.”

New legal arrangements for private tenancies and court procedures

Small claims and residential leases are amongst the few legal documents that many people try and draft themselves. Over the next six months all of these will be changing, with the replacement of Assured and Short Assured Tenancies by a new single “private residential tenancy” (potentially from the end of the year) and the creation of Simple Procedure for civil court claims up to £5,000 (starting 28 November).

Though the style tenancy documents are still under consultation, it is clear that the new paperwork in both areas is designed to be used by the public without needing a solicitor. There is even to be a “Model Tenancy” so landlords will have a standard lease which should be ‘good to go’ for most situations.

As a lawyer who specialises in these areas, I may not need a new career just yet however. Easy to use and understand documents is only one issue. For tenancies, decisions are needed on the various optional clauses and what best applies to the situation. For Simple Procedure, completing the form with all the needed information may still not answer whether there is a strong legal claim or a proper defence.

Although these documents should be straightforward to fill in, once you add in that the new procedures are quite different in both areas, and that tenants have much stronger rights under the new tenancy, legal advice still needs to be considered once the changes come into effect.

If I can be of any help at all please call Joel on 0141 552 3422 or email joel@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

This article was written by Joel Conn and appeared in the December/January edition of the Westender Magazine