A former prisoner with HIV has settled his unlawful discrimination claim

A former prisoner has received substantial compensation from the Ministry of Justice following the settlement of his case alleging that he was discriminated against whilst in prison because of his HIV status.

The former prisoner, known as “Mr F”, has had HIV for many years.  It has been effectively managed during those years through regular medication and review.

Following his imprisonment, Mr F was initially assessed as being suitable for closed conditions upon his imprisonment and allocated to a closed prison.  However, as a result of his good behaviour, he was subsequently assessed as being suitable for open conditions.

Open conditions are those conditions suitable for prisoners who are trusted not to attempt to escape from prison.  Therefore, unlike closed conditions, when they leave prison they do not have to be escorted and when they are in prison the prison regime is not as strict.

Following his assessment as suitable for open conditions, Mr F was recommended for allocation to an open prison.  However, when he applied for transfer to this open prison, his application was rejected on three separate occasions.

On the first two occasions, Mr F’s application was rejected on “medical” grounds.  This could only have meant that he had HIV as he did not have any other medical conditions.

On the third and final occasion, Mr F’s application was rejected on “safety” grounds.  He was not told of this at the time.  However, when he was later told after his release, it was explained to him that safety grounds meant that, because he had previously been assaulted in prison because of his HIV status, it was not safe for him to be transferred to that particular open prison as the prisoners who carried out this assault had or would be transferred to the same prison.

Mr F was not considered for transfer to another open prison, and he remained in a closed prison until his release.

A claim was then brought on behalf of Mr F against the Ministry of Justice under the Equality Act 2010 alleging that he had suffered unlawful disability discrimination because he was denied access to open conditions for 11 months.

HIV is a disability for the purposes of the Act, and, as a result, it is unlawful to treat a person less favourably than other persons because of their HIV status or because of something arising from their HIV status.  It was alleged that this had happened in Mr F’s case by his application being rejected because of “medical” grounds and by failing to transfer him to another open prison where such “safety” grounds did not exist.

The claim was successfully settled earlier this month with the Ministry of Justice agreeing to pay Mr F substantial compensation.

In commenting on the settlement, Benjamin Burrows, a solicitor in the human rights team at Leigh Day said:

“Society’s perceptions of HIV have changed markedly over the years, and largely for the better.  However, Mr F’s case shows that the Prison Service still have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of society.  Mr F was denied access to something that other prisoners were not denied access to and the reason for that was his HIV status or something arising from his HIV status.  This should have been ringing alarm bells for the Prison Service, but, instead, nothing was done.  Therefore, regrettably, Mr F’s case is just another example of the Prison Service failing to fully understand or appreciate their obligations under the Equality Act 2010.”

Mr F’s claim was funded by the Legal Aid Agency, and he was represented by Adam Straw, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.