Charges made against prisoners

Currently, there are approximately 100,000 disciplinary hearings, evidence reviews and adjudications held in prison each year.

These procedures are most commonly carried out by the prison staff, prison governors, directors and sometimes administration staff such as operations management.

Independent adjudicators

Certain cases require complete independence from the prison, and in these situations, and independent adjudicator or visiting magistrate will undertake the role.

Independent adjudicators have additional powers to that of prison staff and prison governors. They have the ability to award up to an additional 42 days imprisonment on top of the prisoner current sentence for each finding of guilt.

The reason why independent adjudicators are used is to:

  • Maintain order within the prison environment

  • Ensure a safe and controlled environment by ensuring all complaints and offences within the prison are investigated thoroughly

  • Ensure the use of authority within the prison is lawful, within reason and fair in all the circumstances.

The notice of report

This is also referred to within prisons as the nicking sheet. When a prisoner is placed on report they will be given a copy of the DIS1 (nicking sheet).

They must receive this copy within 48 hours of the alleged offence being discovered by the prison service, and the prisoner must have at least 2 hours between receiving this sheet and beginning the adjudication process.

The 48 hour rule must be strictly applied at all times. This will include offences that take place during the weekend or on public, and bank holidays.

Before the prisoner begins the adjudication process, they will have the opportunity to request all the information and documentation the prison has in relation to the charge being brought against that prisoner.

The prisoner has the right to seek legal advice in relation to the adjudication process, and any documentation required by the prisoners legal representative should be provided efficiently and at no cost. Requested documents will be given to the prisoner who must then pass them on to their legal representative, whether this be personally or by post, this will depend on the duration between receiving the documents and the beginning of the adjudication process.

Such documentation will include written statements from witnesses and staff.

The record of the hearing

This record is also referred to as the DIS3 form. This document will contain all the details of the hearing or adjudication as recorded by the adjudicator.

The adjudication process

The prisoner will be taken by staff to the relevant facility within the prison for hearing the case.

The adjudicator will begin the process by asking the following questions:

  • Have you received the form DIS 1? (this is the charge or nicking sheet)

  • Have you received the form DIS 2? (this is a sheet explaining to the prisoner how the process will work and what they can expect)

Providing the prisoner answers yes to the above question , and has received the relevant forms and had the opportunity to read through them, the charge will be read out to the prisoner and the adjudicator will ask the prisoner the following questions:

  • Do you understand the charge against you?

  • Do you understand what is happening?

  • Do you want to consult your legal advisor, or receive legal help during the hearing before proceeding further with this case?

  • Have you had enough time to consider all the documents and charges against you, and to think about what you want to say about the charge and any defence you would like to raise?

  • Have you received any witness statements already provided for the hearing?

  • Have you made a written statement?

  • Have you made a written reply to any witness statements?

  • Will you be calling any witnesses?

  • How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?

If the prisoner refuses to enter a plea at the stage, the adjudicator will take his refusal as a guilty pleas and this will be entered on the prisoner’s behalf.

If the prisoner answers no to the question about understanding the charge and the procedure, the adjudicator should take time to explain clearly to the prisoner about the charge against him and what the adjudication procedure is and how the process will work.

If the prisoner has made a written response to any witness statements he received, then this response will be read out during the process. This will either be read out by the prisoner, or the adjudicator depending on the circumstances.

A prisoner’s right to legal advice

If a prisoner request access to legal advice, the adjudicator is responsible for explaining to the prisoner their rights to legal advice, and the possible forms of legal representation that will be available to the prisoner.

The prisoners can receive legal advice in the following ways:

  • Legal representation for the hearing

  • Legal assistance for the hearing

  • A McKenzie friend (who will usually be a member of the chaplaincy, probation team, a teacher or a fellow prisoner)

Whether such assistance will be allowed will be up to the discretion of the adjudicator. Legal representation in front of an independent adjudicator will be an absolute right of the prisoner, a right that is not affected by the adjudicators’ discretion.

When a prisoner request legal assistance, the adjudicator will complete a DIS3 form, providing enough detail to show that the adjudicator has properly considered such a request.

The adjudicator will consider the following when consider the method legal assistance:

  • The seriousness of the charge and potential punishment

  • Legal points likely to arise

  • Prisoners capacity to present their case

  • Possibility of procedural difficulties

  • The length of the hearing

  • Fairness in proceedings

  • Any points the prisoner would like to raise