Tayside and Central Scotland

Ministers ruled in contempt for opening prisoner's mail

HMP Glenochil Image copyright Richard Webb
Image caption Guards at HMP Glenochil were not told they were not allowed to open Smith's confidential letters

A judge has found Scottish ministers to be in contempt of court after breaking a promise not to read a prisoner's mail.

Scottish Prison Service bosses had earlier told Kenneth Smith at the Court of Session that they would not open his confidential correspondence.

However, the message was not passed on to guards at HMP Glenochil, who opened a letter addressed to him.

Lord Pentland found ministers in contempt, but imposed no punishment.

Smith had originally gone to the Court of Session after privileged letters from the Information Commissioners Office and Risk Management Authority sent to him at HMP Dumfries and HMP Edinburgh were opened between December 2010 and September 2012.

The Scottish Prison Service gave an undertaking to the court that they would stop opening Smith's mail.

However, when he was transferred to Glenochil in Clackmannanshire in December 2013, staff there were not informed of the undertaking.

'Obvious step'

One guard opened a letter sent to Smith from the Risk Management Authority, and the inmate took the matter back to court.

At the hearing at the Court of Session, the Scottish ministers admitted breaching the undertaking.

Lord Pentland said it was clear that Glenochil staff should have been informed of the agreement.

He said: "I consider that the failure to take that elementary and obvious step was so gross a nature as to demonstrate a disregard for the importance which the prison service should have attached to the undertaking.

"In these circumstances I am driven to the conclusion that the admitted breach of the undertaking constituted a contempt of court.

"I agree that no penalty should be imposed. The finding of contempt of court against the Scottish ministers is in itself sufficient to mark the gravity of the failure to honour the undertaking given to the court."

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