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Open Letter to HMP Pentonville

View profile for Paul Harris
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An open letter to Ian Blakeman, Governor of HMP Pentonville concerning access to HMP Pentonville with electronic tablets

Dear Sir,

Re:  Access to HMP Pentonville with Tablets

My partner, Natalie Berman attended HMP Pentonville this morning, Thursday 05 August 2021.

In accordance with longstanding and common practice, she attended with her tablet in order to be able to take instructions from the client to approve a Defence Case Statement.

The tablet she had taken to the prison is the tablet that all fee earners in our firm have and which we have all been taking to HMP Pentonville on a regular basis.

On arrival at the prison, the Manager, Ms Logan informed Ms Berman that she is not allowed to take the tablet in because it has a front facing camera, and that it may be able to access the internet. Ms Berman offered to allow staff to go onto the computer to confirm that it was not possible to connect it to the internet without Wi-Fi, of which there was none. 

Ms Berman was informed that unless she was using a laptop, a form would be required in order to obtain authorisation for the tablet. Ms Berman asked for the form and was informed by the prison that the form is not currently in existence and that they are now raising this matter with the management. As we are not allowed to take paper or pen into the prison, the client’s cannot sign anything or inspect any evidence. This severely inhibits clients access to justice by prohibiting them from preparing their own case with their solicitor.

There are no words that adequately describe how difficult it is for practitioners to do their jobs at the moment in this current environment. The lengthy delay in getting visits and the lack of response to request for visits has made the situation even worse. Pentonville are the hardest prison to get visits at. Prisoners are also moved wings the day before visits resulting in long awaited visits being cancelled with little notice.  This new rule, brought in without any notice whatsoever, makes legal visits at Pentonville pointless and only serves to cause further delays in a system which is struggling to cope already. 

A number of the staff at HMP Pentonville informed Ms Berman that tablets have never been allowed, but if that is the case, myself and my partners and everyone else at the firm, for years, have been attending the prison and breaking this rule with the full knowledge and consent of prison staff without ever being informed of such a rule.

May we suggest that if this is the new practice that the form necessary to obtain authority come into existence within hours.

Yours faithfully, 


Paul Harris

Edward Fail, Bradshaw & Waterson


CC      Alex Chalk MP, Minister of State (Prisons and Probation), Ministry of Justice

            Mark Troman, President of London Criminal Court Solicitors Association

            Daniel Bonich, President of Criminal Law Solicitors Association

            James Mulholand QC, Chairperson of Criminal Bar Association            

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