Young Offenders – A Change to Prison Discipline Rules

Changes to the prison adjudication rules came in to force on 15 May 2020 and will remain in place until 25 March 2022, unless revoked earlier. The changes are in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

What has changed?

The rules cater for the situation where a disciplinary charge has been referred to an Independent Adjudicator (‘IA’).

The new rules enable the Chief Magistrate to refer charges back to the governor, who will be able to respond in three ways (as they already can under the Prison and YOI Rules):

i) a dismissal;

ii) continue with the charge at governor adjudication level, or;

iii) determine the charge is sufficiently serious that it must be dealt with by an IA and refer to the IA again.

A governor will have 14 days to inquire into a charge from when the Chief Magistrate has determined that an IA cannot inquire into the charge. The charge is to be treated as a charge inquired into by a governor and cannot receive a punishment set by an IA.

Why is this change necessary?

The government argues that there is an increasing challenge in the ability for IA’s to hear charges in the context of coronavirus.

However, the existing legislation contains no express power which allows an IA to refer a case back to the governor.

There is an increased risk that a significant number of serious cases will be dismissed because of the amount of time which will have passed before an IA is able to hear the charge.

This could undermine the integrity of the adjudication system, send a message of impunity in prisons and risk employee relations.

These changes have some potential advantage in that the available penalty will now in many cases be much lower, but on the other hand, the independent element is removed. We stand ready to scrutinise the proper implementation of these changes, and any person who has concerns should take legal advice as soon as possible.