Speaking on behalf of his client on Friday, attorney James Austin-Smith said the conditions at Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward are “hardly fit for human habitation” and could make for a “very good case” if challenged under U.K. or European human rights laws. Mr. Austin-Smith also serves as chairman of the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission.
Mr. Austin-Smith’s comments were made before the Grand Court during a sentencing hearing for one of his clients, accountant Robert Aspinall, who pleaded guilty to theft, forgery and money laundering-related offenses on Friday.
The HRC chairman, speaking in mitigation for his client, who was due to be sentenced Monday, noted that the prisons were reviewed in 2012 and again in 2015 and had not received good news.
“It has been described as appearing hardly fit for human habitation,” he said of Northward. “Leaky roofs, cockroach-infested, cage-like, overcrowded, filthy,” Mr. Austin-Smith said.
Grand Court Justice Timothy Owen said he understood what Mr. Austin-Smith was getting at, but wondered whether the sentencing before the court was the proper place to address it.
“The difficulty about this … is that every judge sentencing everybody in the Cayman Islands has either got to not send someone to prison because the evidence is that Northward is incapable of detaining anyone … or you have to factor in a reduction [in sentence] for everyone,” Justice Owen said.
“Mr. Aspinall cannot be treated differently than anyone else who appears before the courts here,” Mr. Owen said.
Mr. Austin-Smith said he did not intend to infer that Aspinall should be treated differently than anyone else before the court. He said he simply rejected the notion that doing time in Northward was akin to some country-club atmosphere.
“The conditions of incarceration at Northward are not some sort of holiday camp. He is going to do hard time,” Mr. Austin-Smith said.
He noted that Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights can apply to cases involving extremely poor conditions in detention – making them tantamount to inhumane treatment or torture.
If Northward inmates were to challenge conditions “they’d have a very good case,” under the convention, the HRC chairman said.
Justice Owen agreed that the prison system reports set out a “very alarming state of affairs.”
“But it seems to me the remedy is elsewhere,” he said.