Telephone taping in prisons criticised

THE ROUTINE tape-recording of prisoners' telephone calls was yesterday condemned as a breach of human rights by civil liberty groups, probation officers and lawyers.

Experts believe the legality of the Home Office practice could be tested in the European courts. They say it could amount to a breach of Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right to privacy.

The issue is being raised with Peter Lloyd, the Home Office minister, by the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), which is also concerned about who has access to the taped conversations and whether they can be passed to police.

Sophisticated recording equipment is being installed alongside card-phones, currently being introduced in the country's 128 prisons as part of penal reform suggested by the Woolf report into the Strangeways riots. The report recommended strengthening links between inmates, their families and the community at large by making telephones available and by ending censorship of mail.

But while staff are no longer opening prisoners' letters, they are monitoring the telephone calls of most inmates - including unconvicted remand prisoners.

Recording and listening in may take place simultaneously, or tapes may be played back later. Staff are told that if they realise the call is between prisoner and lawyer, the recording should be switched off. Similarly if they detect a distress call to organisations such as the Samaritans or an Aids helpline, they should observe confidentiality.

But penal reform groups argue this leaves too much trust and discretion to staff. They suggest that any monitoring should be restricted to high-risk prisoners. If there is desire for a particular inmate's calls to be scrutinised, an application for a telephone tap should be made to the Home Secretary in the same way as for a domestic telephone.

Andrew Puddephatt, general secretary of Liberty, said: 'A remand prisoner is not convicted of any crime and any prisoner still maintains basic human rights - one of which is private communication with their family or loved ones and with their legal representative. The automatic taping of all conversations and monitoring at the discretion of the governor or other prison officers is a violation of that right.'

The Home Office yesterday defended the monitoring, saying it was designed to stop abuses - such as prisoners making distressing or threatening calls to victims or witnesses.

A spokeswoman said that all the card-phones in the 60 jails where they are already installed were being used without complaint. Signs warn that calls are recorded. Other telephones were available for those wishing to ensure client-lawyer privacy.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of NAPO, said: 'Telephone installation was a long overdue innovation. But if there is abuse, then action should be taken against the individual concerned, rather than penalising the entire prison population.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk