Legal challenge over 'ban' on books for prisoners

We've learned this evening that the Ministry of Justice is facing a legal challenge over the controversial policy that became known by the shorthand "prison book ban".

Its proper name is the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme (no wonder they found a nickname) and it came into force in November. It was part of a crackdown on the kind of small packages prisoners were allowed to receive - many of which, the inmates argued, included books key to their rehabilitation.

Tomorrow the Ministry of Justice will receive a 2,000-page bundle of papers including 44 pages detailing the claims laid out by lawyers for a claimant known as "BGJ" - who will provide the first test case in an attempt to get the policy overturned.

Now BGJ is a woman serving a life sentence - she's epileptic, highly educated and is described by her legal team as "in despair" by the policy, which prevents her from accessing reading matter.

Her lawyers say the effects of this policy are particularly hard felt by women and by those on life sentences who depend on what they receive from the outside world to keep them motivated and incentivised.

The Ministry of Justice has told the lawyers bringing the test case that they are too late - as you are only allowed to appeal against a policy within a three-month period, which in this case has now passed.

But the lawyers I've spoken to say they are challenging that rule in this case. They say that although the policy was introduced in November, its implementation has been done in a piecemeal way, coming in at different prisons at different times. They say it only started to affect their client in the past 10 days.

The challenge now gets passed to a judge who will decide whether it's allowed to proceed. If it does, and it wins, then it means the government will have to look very hard at whether they can continue with a policy once a precedent against it has been set.

Later this week the Howard League for Penal Reform will attempt to bring forward their own case - claiming the rules are unlawful.

We should be hearing a response from the justice secretary by the end of the week. The advice I have seen on BGJ's case suggests the team could have a very serious chance of winning.

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