Prison governor SUMMONED to court for dressing down by judge
A deputy prison governor apologised to an Oxford judge for ‘inexcusable’ communication failings after a violent inmate repeatedly failed to be produced at court.
Lee-Ann Williams appeared before Judge Michael Gledhill KC at Oxford Crown Court on Friday (March 24) to explain why his order for Shaun Page to be brought to court ‘by force if necessary’ had been ‘blatantly ignored’.
The judge had become more frustrated when, despite issuing an order on Wednesday that they attend the following day, no governor or deputy governor from HMP Swaleside was at court on Thursday to explain themselves.
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Instead, they arranged for Page, 22, to make the 250 mile round trip from the Isle of Sheppey jail to Oxford Crown Court – despite his case not being listed on Thursday.
A statement released by the Ministry of Justice after Page was sentenced to 14 months' imprisonment on Thursday said simply: “The prisoner has now appeared in court.”
Having dealt with Page for having a makeshift knife and attacking a guard with a ‘weighted sock’, Judge Gledhill issued a witness summons requiring a representative from HMP Swaleside to attend court or risk being locked up for contempt of court.
On Friday morning, Ms Williams apologised for the poor communication from the prison. Explaining the reason why they had not brought him earlier in the week, she said Page had significant mental health issues and there had been real concerns for his welfare.
After Wednesday’s aborted hearing the duty governor had spent a significant time in the man’s cell, explaining that he would be taken straight back from court to Swaleside, where he was receiving psychiatric help.
It was as a result of that intervention that staff managed to get the defendant to court on Thursday – a day late.
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That had not, seemingly, been communicated to the court.
Asked by Judge Gledhill how she would rate Swaleside’s communication during the episode, the deputy governor replied: “It’s been shocking. It’s inexcusable.
"However, we have learned from it and already I have made some changes to our processes so this will not occur again.”
Concluding Friday's hearing, the judge said: “I now regard this incident at an end and I hope never to come across such an incident again.”
Earlier, the judge had questioned the legal basis for claims in official HM Prison and Probation Service guidance that a crown court judge had ‘no lawful power to order a prisoner to be brought to court against their will’.
“I cannot find any rule of law that prohibits me from saying if the prisoner is in lawful custody in prison and he unreasonably refuses to attend that I cannot order or direct the prisoner to attend,” the judge said.
Judge Gledhill said he ‘didn’t accept’ that HMPPS guidance was right in law, and noted other cases where prisons had asked judges for permission to use force to bring an inmate to court.
He told the deputy governor that she might want to take the matter to the High Court, where it could be dealt with by a judge in the administrative courts.