LONDON — The Scottish Prison Service could face thousands of compensation claims following a ruling by Britain’s upper parliamentary chamber that will allow prisoners to pursue human rights violations claims.
In a decision that clears the way for thousands of prisoners and former prisoners to file for compensation from the SPS, the House of Lords ruled that a one-year statute of limitations on human rights cases in England and Wales is not applicable to cases under Scottish jurisdiction.
The act establishing the Scottish parliament in 1999, which also devolved responsibility for human rights legislation from the English parliament, did not incorporate a time bar on human rights cases, in the opinion of the Lords.
More than 1,700 cases involving prisoner compensation claims had remained in legal limbo pending the outcome of a precedent-setting segregation case. Prior to the ruling, the government stated it would only settle claims filed within 12 months of any alleged rights violation.
Although the ruling came in a case brought by several prisoners who claimed the SPS violated their human rights by placing them in solitary confinement during their incarceration, the majority of cases faced by the SPS will involve compensation claims by prisoners who endured slopping out, experts say.
The practice of slopping out, in which prisoners were forced to use covered chamber pots as toilets in full view of cellmates — emptying and cleaning them at a communal drain — dates back to the Victorian era.
In 2005, the UK government ended shared-cell slopping out following a 2004 decision by the courts that adjudged the practice to be a violation of human rights.
HMP Peterhead, which is the last operational Scottish prison without modern plumbing — prisoners use portable toilets — is slated for closure, officials say.
The government has paid more than $800,000 in compensation to about 220 prisoners forced to slop out while incarcerated in Scottish prisons, officials say.
Had the one-year limit remained in place, no further compensation claims would have been entertained.
With hundreds of new claims filed every month, the SPS revised its contingency estimates in the wake of the Lords’ ruling to approximately $150 million, excluding legal and administration costs.