The Big Picture: Corporate Manslaughter Act and the prison service: why the delay?

Now the Corporate Manslaughter Act has been passed, the government has finally conceded that a duty of care is owed to those held in custody.

Ministers had previously insisted that the prison service should be exempt from prosecution if prisoners were injured or killed, as in the case of my nephew Zahid Mubarek who died at the hands of racist Robert Stewart at Feltham young offender institution in 2000.

But the government has said protection for prisoners under the law will only be introduced after a three-year delay, because the prison service is under “very considerable pressure”.

This is yet another example of ministers dragging their feet by awarding half measures and refusing to learn lessons before the worst happens. I fear for the damage that could occur within those three years – after which nothing is guaranteed. The problem is that the dynamic of the prison population evolves yet the prison system remains stuck in the past.

Whenever the government has been challenged on deaths in custody, it adopts its usual line: there already exist many forms of investigative remedies, most of which would establish the cause and circumstances. But through the experience of my family as well as many others, I have become very doubtful that there is a remedy robust enough to effectively address the negligence of individuals and more importantly, close the loopholes to avoid a similar tragedy from reoccurring.

My family was failed by every form of “remedy”. This served not only to prolong our grief but cost the taxpayer great expense. In these circumstances I believe the government has failed to provide us with a good enough reason as to why it should further delay extending the law.

Had the Corporate Manslaughter Act been in place when Zahid was in prison it would have saved his life as well as the lives of the many prisoners whose deaths have occurred under questionable circumstances.

The Zahid Mubarek Inquiry found there were 127 missed opportunities across 11 institutions within the prison estate to have saved Zahid’s life. This was a mass failure that can only be described as institutional murder and would have made the prison service grossly negligent under the act.

The prison service should be made more accountable. If it has nothing to hide, then it has nothing to fear.

Imtiaz Amin is Zahid Mubarek’s uncle and works for anti-racist charity The Monitoring Group

This article appeared in the 16 August issue under the headline “Why the long delay?”

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