Assistance Policy and Prisoners Section
Our team advises consular staff in London and overseas on consular assistance policy, particularly issues relating to human rights and prisoners. We are frequently called to advise on clemency petitions, prison conditions and prisoners’ welfare, deportations after sentence and transfers back to the UK. Our human rights adviser also helps with any human rights concerns including fair trial, torture and mistreatment. Many of our enquiries relate to high profile cases, but we deal with all enquiries with the same rigour. We also take the lead on cases where the death penalty is a risk, working closely with our colleagues at home and overseas. Lastly, we are responsible for developing a fair and consistent consular assistance policy as a whole, based on Support for British nationals abroad: A Guide
As of March 2007 we were aware of 2,454 British nationals detained in prisons abroad. Where appropriate and effective, we will consider approaching the local authorities if a prisoner is not treated in line with internationally accepted standards. Factors can include poor prison conditions, torture and mistreatment, and persistent and long-term lapses in medical treatment. We may also intervene where a trial does not follow internationally recognised standards for a fair trial or is unreasonably delayed compared to local cases. Prisoners’ rights are covered by a number of international human rights conventions including, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Council of Europe Minimum Standard on Prison Conditions
The UK currently has Prisoner Transfer Agreements (PTAs) with 80 countries. Such agreements can allow British nationals imprisoned in those countries to transfer to a UK prison to serve the remainder of their sentence here. Repatriation allows prisoners to maintain ties with their families more easily and removes cultural difficulties, thereby contributing to their rehabilitation. In order for successful transfers, we work together with the Ministry of Justice who are the lead department on each transfer. In addition to assisting with this we are also responsible for implementing the signing of each PTA and are involved in negotiations with various countries each year.
States are under an obligation to uphold basic human rights, including those of visiting British nationals. Our consular staff play an important role in responding to allegations of human rights abuses, and will consider raising these concerns with foreign authorities. Our team advises consular staff on human rights, and when and how any such intervention would be appropriate and effective. To this end, we have a dedicated professional human rights adviser seconded to us from Prisoners Abroad.
The UK is an abolitionist state and is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. Our policy on British nationals facing the death penalty was announced to Parliament on 27 February 2001 by the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw:
“We will now express our opposition to the death penalty and its use on a British national at whatever stage and level is judged appropriate from the moment when the imposition of a death sentence on a British national becomes a possibility.”Representations will always be made against the death penalty and its imposition on British nationals, and due to a change in policy in 2001, we have also made representations on behalf of dual British nationals as demonstrated by the case of Tahir Hussain.
In 1988, 18-year-old dual British-Pakistani national Tahir Hussain arrived in Pakistan to spend time visiting family. But not long after arriving he was involved in an incident near the airport in which a taxi driver was shot dead.
Tahir was charged and convicted of murder and firearms offences and sentenced to death in September 1989. At one of his appeals, Tahir’s death sentence was reduced to a term of imprisonment. But the case was later passed from the regular Courts to the Shariat (religious) courts, which reinstated the death penalty. By 2004, Tahir had exhausted all of his appeals and submitted a plea for clemency.
By 2006, President Musharraf of Pakistan had granted three stays of execution with another date set for the end of the year. By this point, Tahir’s case had generated much media interest. The campaign to prevent his execution was lead by his family and supported by MPs and human rights groups. With Tahir’s last stay of execution due to run out in December 2006, timing was of the utmost importance. The Foreign Secretary, Prime Minister, Prince of Wales and other international figures all appealed personally to President Musharraf to commute Tahir’s sentence.
After much campaigning, in November 2006 President Musharraf commuted Tahir’s sentence from death to life imprisonment. Having already served a life sentence of 18 years in jail, Tahir was released on 17 November and able to return to life in the UK.
We work with a number of organisations, including Support After Murder & Manslaughter (Abroad) and Fair Trials International, but work most closely with the following organisations.
Prisoners Abroad is a charity that works towards the interests of British nationals detained abroad. They are an invaluable source of support and advice both for the prisoners and for their family who may be thousands of miles away from them. Prisoners Abroad are key to helping lessen the sense of isolation often felt by prisoners and can help by providing financial assistance and prison comforts such as books, magazines and newspapers.
For more information visit the Prisoners Abroad website: www.prisonersabroad.org.uk or phone them on 0207 561 6820.
Reprieve is a UK charity that campaigns on behalf of those unjustly held on death row around the world. Their team of lawyers actively raise the cases of the disadvantaged and give vital help for those who cannot afford to defend themselves.
For more information visit the Reprieve website: www.reprieve.org.uk or phone them on 0207 353 4640.
Heathrow Travel-care & Gatwick Travel-care
Heathrow Travel-Care and Gatwick Travel-Care have a social care role at each airport, which includes handling the cases of distressed British nationals and prisoners who arrive back to the UK. If a British national has been released from prison abroad, the sentencing country is likely to automatically deport them back to the UK. When either organisation is alerted to the arrival of an individual they can be there to meet them and help arrange the initial care needed. If they are informed in time, they may be able to give advice and in some cases, assistance to returnees with social care needs during their opening hours.
Heathrow Travel-Care also manages a Consular Repatriation Project to assess and assist vulnerable returnees in partnership with Consular staff.
For more information you can contact them on:
Heathrow Travel-care: 0208 745 7495 firstname.lastname@example.org
Gatwick Travel-care: 01293 504283 email@example.com
Further information is available in our leaflets