Arrested for using the wrong locker

I received my copy of the Law Society Gazette yesterday and read a story entitled Solicitors sue police and prison service.  According to the story three solicitors are suing after they were arrested while visiting client at HMP Brixton because they placed prohibited items into the wrong lockers.  There doesn't seem to be any suggestion that any of the solicitors attempted to take the prohibited items into the visit area.  It is also worth noting that none of the solicitors involved have been charged with any offence, despite the comments by the Prison Service.

If you've never visited a prison, especially on a legal visit, it may be difficult to appreciate how prisons deal with security during visits.  There are very few common rules between establishments and the individual prison's rules are subject to change without notice and are in any case not applied evenly.  For example, last time I visited HMP Littlehey, I was reminded not to take a mobile telephone in with me but I was not searched.  The time before I was searched properly and had to go through the drug dog search as well.  At HMP Belmarsh, I had to provide the model, make and serial number of my laptop when I booked the visit.  On attendance none of these details were checked despite Belmarsh being one of the most secure prisons in the UK.

While I'm on the subject of Belmarsh, in order to gain entry you must have your fingerprints registered and checked whenever you move inside the prison.  My brother went to visit a prisoner there last year as he was leaving he saw the picture they held of him... it was actually me!  Glad to see that expensive system is fool proof then.

Anyway, because the prisons all operate different rules and procedures and those rule and procedures are always changing without any notice, it is often very difficult to know where you are supposed to leave things.  Some prisons have lockers outside the prison, some have them inside but before the search point and some have them at the search point.  Some places, like HMYOI Feltham have a mix of lockers in different places.  At HMP Pentonville, you leave everything outside unless visiting in the late afternoon or evening in which case you leave it at the search point inside the prison... although if you forget to leave something outside during the morning or early afternoon then you can sometimes leave it with the searchers... but only if they like you!  So, the rules and procedures are a mess.

The fact that five solicitors have been arrested (and none charged) at different times for the same thing seems to suggest that there is something very wrong with the information being handed out at Brixton prison.  It's been a while since I was last there and I can't really comment on the lay out from memory.

When I showed this story to one of my colleagues he told me that he forgot to take his mobile out of his pocket by mistake at Brixton.  He showed it to the searchers and was told to take it into the visit but, "don't make any calls"!

Will the solicitors win?  Maybe not since they do appear to have broken the law.  Were these arrests a good use of police time?  I'm going to suggest not.


  1. I can confirm that every prison I've ever visited has a completely unique checking in and security procedure. I've always put it down to the sheer cussedness of each set of prison officers and one of their little ways of reminding each official visitor who's in charge. The other way is overuse of the word 'sir' just to rub it in a bit more. All part of the rich tapestry of life in the British CJS!

  2. Oh I know they shouldn't be arrested so easily but a certain wry smile did cross my lips that they fell foul of difficult and complicated regulations and policies - bit like the ones they exploit in doing their job?

  3. They may have broken the law, but remember of course that there are two steps here. First the decision of the Prison Officers to restrict the movement of the solicitors (i.e. "arrest" them). That decision had to be based on objective assessment of whether a crime had been committed or not. As you know, this includes whether or not mens rea was present. If an objective assessment would have led the prison officers to believe that no offence had been committed, they had no power of arrest.

    Second, the police decision to arrest. The officers had to make their own person decision that arrest was a good idea (aka the "executive decision to arrest"). The prison service saying "they've broken the law" is not good enough - by a very long mile. Neither would be "the gaffer told us to go to Brixton Jail and bring in 5 suspects". The individual officer needed to have personally decided to effect the arrest.

    Next however, comes the statutory basis of arrest. The police then, on top of the executive decision to arrest need also to have met the requirements of PACE most important here I would have thought being was the arrest necessary? They would of course trot out that the arrest was necessary to enable prompt investigation of the offence.

    But of course it almost certainly wasn't. It's not the crime of the century. They aren't going to get a spell inside. There's no risk of them doing a runner. They know exactly who they are, what they have done and where to find them.

    The best the police could hope for in my view is an invitation to come in for a PACE interview.

    But the reality is for this, if they thought an offence was committed, they wouldn't even need to charge it - a summons would do. (Of course it would never happen, but that's another story).

    So how can an arrest be necessary?

  4. Dominic, I agree that an arrest was almost certainly unnecessary in this case - in fact a large number of arrrests are unnecessary. But, they still happen all the time.

    I've not seen a surge in people claiming for unlawful arrest or attempting to exclude evidence on that basis. Maybe that will change in time.

  5. "... a certain wry smile did cross my lips that they fell foul of difficult and complicated regulations and policies - bit like the ones they exploit in doing their job? "

    I don't disagree at all.


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