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Prison row as lawyer denied client access

A LAWYER is locked in a battle with a Scottish prison after being denied access to his client for refusing to complete a fingerprint scan.

DISPUTE: The lawyer says he was initially told the identification process at Addiewell was voluntary.
DISPUTE: The lawyer says he was initially told the identification process at Addiewell was voluntary.

Solicitor Gerard Sweeney was asked to comply with a bio-metric identification system on entry to HMP Addiewell but refused on the grounds it was unnecessary and a breach of his human rights.

Staff at the West Lothian prison, who initially told him the identification process was voluntary, then refused him entry to the privately owned centre.

Mr Sweeney, who planned to meet his client to discuss an upcoming trial, has since been unable to gain access.

He said: “This was the first time I’d been to that prison and I was not allowing my personal details to be taken and my rights to be infringed like that.

“Solicitors are given a Law Society identification card and that’s the only form of identification they require. In other prisons all I have to do is show that card and I’m allowed entry.

“At first I was asked to do it voluntarily but when I refused, they denied me entry, so how is that voluntary? It’s unnecessary and has resulted in my client having no access to his solicitor.”

Mr Sweeney claimed his client’s trial could now be delayed as a result – causing further anguish to victims and witnesses in the case. He said he has written to the prison and the procurator fiscal’s office in Glasgow in an attempt to be allowed access without having to provide the fingerprints. To date, he has had no response.

The Glasgow-based lawyer added: “I’ve heard other solicitors moaning they are also unhappy about the procedure but we’re all out to make money and they’ve eventually agreed to it.

“However, I will not subject myself to that type of behaviour. Under the Convention of Human Rights, the prison can only demand information like that if it is necessary, not preferential, but absolutely necessary.”

Mr Sweeney has requested the procurator fiscal either instructs Addiewell to allow him access without using the technology or moves his client. In his letter, he has also outlined plans to raise the issue in court.

A spokesman for Sodexo Justice Services, the firm that runs Addiewell, said the system is used to allow visitors to pass more speedily through the reception area and into the prison.

The firm claimed the technology takes a measurement of the fingerprint which provides a form of electronic key, but does not store the image. The information is deleted after 18 months.

The spokesman, who said Mr Sweeney’s letter had not been received, said: “As part of our stringent security procedures at HMP Addiewell, anyone entering the site is required to complete the biometric identity registration process before access is permitted.

“Its use is limited to that which relates to the security, safety and access to services for the site. Information explaining the reasons for collecting this data is clearly communicated in the visitor area and a pocket guide is also available.”

HMP Addiewell and HMP Kilmarnock, both privately run, are the only prisons that use the technology in Scotland.

The Crown Office was unable to comment.

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