The High Court has this week (21 June 2016) ruled that it is important to be able to prosecute prisoners for acts of violence committed against prison officers while serving time in prison, as a way of protecting prison officers and prisoners. This amounted to a landmark victory for the Prison Officers Association (POA).

The ruling comes after the POA contested a police decision not to prosecute a prisoner who assaulted an officer (who wishes to remain anonymous) at HMP Coldingley in January 2016.

The prisoner in question was being verbally abusive towards medical staff when the prison officer asked him to leave the area. The inmate instead punched the officer and attempted to gouge out his eye.

Police were informed of the incident but responded that they would not ‘be taking the matter further’ because it was ‘not in the public interest’ due to the length of imprisonment the man was already due to serve, and the fact that the prisoner had been moved to a higher security prison as a result of the attack.

The POA member contacted his union, who instructed Thompsons Solicitors to investigate the case.

Thompsons Solicitors’ criminal law experts challenged the decision not to prosecute the prisoner, something which was supported by the High Court of Justice. Thompsons’ personal injury team is now acting for the prison officer in a civil case for damages.

Assistant General Secretary of the POA, Glyn Travis, said: “Our members should be afforded the same rights as any worker carrying out a public service. Prison officers are often required to work with violent individuals, but that does not mean they should be expected to be dismissed by police when they are physically attacked.

“We’re grateful to Thompsons Solicitors for fighting for this on behalf of our member and securing today’s successful outcome. This is an important victory for prison officers everywhere as it states very clearly that violence will not be tolerated against prison staff and that there will be consequences.”

Paula Porter, Head of Criminal Law at Thompsons Solicitors said: “This was clearly a serious assault on an officer entitled to protection whilst carrying out his duties. Violent acts committed by inmates against prison officers are just as concerning as violent acts committed on the streets, and should be not be taken anymore lightly because they take place within a prison setting.”