Isle of Man accused of 'authoritarian' lockdown measures

Residents locked up in allegedly ‘inhuman’ conditions for rule breaches

The Isle of Man’s approach to enforcing a coronavirus lockdown has been branded “authoritarian” after residents who breached the rules were locked up in allegedly “inhuman” conditions without showers or exercise.

Juveniles are among those who have been detained for breaches of the prohibition on movement regulations on the island, such as leaving home more than once for exercise, having dinner in another household, and drinking on a beach.

The juveniles are held at a secure unit in Douglas, as distinct from the adult prison.

The island’s government strenuously denied allegations of breaches of human rights, saying its actions had been proportionate and necessary, aimed at keeping people safe in response to the unprecedented global health crisis.

There have been 24 deaths linked to Covid-19 on the Isle of Man and 336 confirmed cases. The island has a population of about 85,000.

More than 700 people have been warned for breaching the regulations, of whom 78 were arrested, including nine children. In total, 26 offenders have been jailed for breaching the emergency powers, although 11 of them also faced other charges. All those arrested had received earlier warnings.

The Isle of Man said levels of enforcement were consistent with the UK. However, a key difference in the approach is that in the first five weeks of the crisis, fixed penalty notices were not available to the police force.

Ian Kermode, a criminal barrister on the island, labelled the approach “authoritarian”.

“The real trouble started on the 31 March with the prohibition on movement regulations,” he said.

“The Isle of Man mirrored the rules in England save for one very important part, which was fixed penalty notices, the mechanism for enforcing those regulations in England, was omitted and replaced with either a fine of £10,000 or three months in jail.”

As a consequence, the police were “arresting people right, left and centre”, Kermode said. The typical sentence handed down is about 28 days.

Among those held were a 14-year-old boy, an 18-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, Kermode said.

Other examples include: a 27-year-old man sentenced to 35 days in jail for being absent from home, and a 42-year-old woman sentenced to 35 days in jail for being absent from home; a 31-year-old man jailed for five weeks for instigating a gathering; and a 35-year-old man, who had received a previous warning, was jailed for 30 days for drinking at a friend’s house.

The lawyer said he was shocked when he discovered the conditions some of his clients were facing in prison.

The prison introduced a 14-day self-isolation regime for all new arrivals. Due to automatic release at the midway point of the sentence, most of the people jailed for lockdown breaches were spending the whole sentence in isolation.

The isolation regime meant some inmates faced 14 days without showers or exercise. The only time the cell door was opened was to deliver 24 hours’ worth of meals.

“The prison population averages between 80 and 90 – all of a sudden they were faced with a sudden influx of 20 and 30 prisoners in little over a month,” Kermode said. “The very time when prisons around the world were releasing prisoners to reduce prison crowding, the IoM prison was suddenly faced with 20 to 30 prisoners.”

Kermode said there was potential for those imprisoned to bring cases in the higher Manx courts and even the European court of human rights, as he alleges there may have been breaches of article three of the European convention on human rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment.

Since complaints have been raised, procedures at the jail have been altered and the island’s government eventually introduced fixed penalty notices. However, Kermode says they have not been well used.

The government said it refuted allegations that prisoners received “inhuman or degrading” treatment, adding prisoners were given in-cell exercise regimes and access to in-cell sanitation facilities. 

“While this regime affected a small cohort of prisoners, the remaining wings in the prison operated on a less rigorous regime, designed to mitigate transmission of coronavirus, but still retained access to exercise, showers and legal advice,” it said.

“The government strenuously refutes any allegations of breaches of human rights.”

The Isle of Man prison has a capacity of 144. In England and Wales, the government has reduced the headcount in prisons by about 3,000 as it attempts to prevent the spread of Covid-19 behind bars. Other nations have released prisoners early to ease the burden.

Phil Matthews, the chair of Amnesty International Isle of Man, said: “These are exceptional circumstances, but we know that emergency powers can sometimes be misused, and this must not give a green light to trample on our basic human rights and liberties.

“The reports are incredibly concerning and could suggest a heavy-handed application of the emergency powers. These allegations should be investigated as a matter of urgency.”

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s head of advocacy and programmes, added: “The unjustified detention of anyone in the midst of a global pandemic is cruel and gravely irresponsible. Alternatives to detention should be considered for anyone who does not pose a threat to themselves or society.”

• This article was amended on 29 May 2020 to clarify that children have been held in a secure facility, separate from the adult prison.

Contributor

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'We’re in fine fettle': joy on Isle of Man as Covid lockdown ends
As pubs and cafes bustle back to life, islanders are thankful for ‘that bit of water between us and UK’

Steven Morris

01, Feb, 2021 @3:33 PM

Article image
Covid death on Isle of Man deals a blow after tough lockdown
Manx government has run strict regime to keep island virus-free but isolation exemption for ferry workers causes anger

Helen Pidd

14, Mar, 2021 @2:49 PM

Article image
Protest exemption set to be removed from England lockdown rules
Expected move is met with fierce criticism from campaigners and human rights groups

Jamie Grierson and Vikram Dodd

03, Nov, 2020 @7:41 PM

Article image
Same-sex marriage to become legal from Friday in Isle of Man
New law will also allow heterosexual couples to have civil partnerships instead of marriages if they prefer

Helen Pidd North of England editor

21, Jul, 2016 @12:29 PM

Article image
Three jailed on Isle of Man for breaking Covid quarantine rules
Sentences handed to travellers returning from UK who failed to self-isolate for 14 days

Helen Pidd

23, Aug, 2020 @4:04 PM

Article image
Lack of special border measures before UK coronavirus lockdown was 'serious mistake'
Thousands of infections were brought to UK in 10 days prior to lockdown, MPs say

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

04, Aug, 2020 @11:01 PM

Article image
Ease lockdown for angling, shooting and bowls, urge lobbyists
We tick the box for non-contact and can be played outdoors, says bowls manager

Steven Morris

08, May, 2020 @12:51 PM

Article image
Isle of Wight patient sent home on first day of Covid-19 lockdown almost died
Exclusive: hospital admits that man who spent weeks seeking urgent care was misdiagnosed

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

16, Jun, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
London could go into lockdown under tougher coronavirus measures
No 10 considers stricter containment steps as disease spreads rapidly in the capital

Kate Proctor, Heather Stewart and Gwyn Topham

18, Mar, 2020 @5:26 PM

Article image
UK rights watchdog endorses compulsory Covid jabs for care home staff
EHRC says ministers right to make protecting life a priority despite ‘departure’ from health policy

Aubrey Allegretti

02, Jun, 2021 @5:00 AM