ACT inmate loses human rights fight over vegetarian roll, photocopies
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ACT inmate loses human rights fight over vegetarian roll, photocopies

A Canberra judge has rejected an inmate's claims that jail authorities breached his human rights by charging him a photocopy fee and not serving him a vegetarian sandwich.

Associate Justice Verity McWilliam, however, expressed concern that a prisoner served the wrong meal "must, on occasion, go without and is given cereal instead".

Isa Islam launched ACT Supreme Court action against prison authorities last year, arguing the management of prisoners food requests and photocopying practices contravened the Human Rights Act.

Islam, a former street preacher, is serving sentences for violent offences, including stabbing a man and leaving him paralysed, and bashing a fellow inmate.

Islam, who is self-represented, has previously filed lawsuits against jail authorities alleging failings at the Alexander Maconochie Centre in relation to his Muslim faith, legal appeals, and access to facilities for his academic studies.

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In 2015, Islam – who has completed a number of academic qualifications while locked up - lost a bid to use the human rights laws to force the prison to give him greater access to a computer to prepare for an appeal against his sentence.

That same year, he lost a case to order jail authorities to give him a job at the jail.

In 2016, he lost a case which argued he had been discriminated against and subjected to jokes involving Islamic State because of his Muslim faith.

In the latest proceedings, Islam – who is a vegetarian due to his religious beliefs – cited an incident whereby he had gone without lunch after being served a chicken roll had breached his right to food consistent with respecting a prisoner's religious beliefs.

He also alleged the cost of printing had been an arbitrary policy that had been applied to him in a discriminatory fashion.

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Associate Justice McWilliam, in a decision handed down this month, dismissed both claims, finding jail staff had been "generally willing, and the system is reasonably able, to ensure the protection of a prisoner's right to practise his or her religion through adherence to a certain diet".

She said the failure to supply Islam with a vegetarian roll had not been a lack of respect for his human rights, but due to non-compliance with the procedure notifying the kitchen that processed chicken was not appropriate for the prisoner.

She found that the system, as implemented, was "reasonably effective", but there was room for improvement.

"For example, although the full detail of what occurred was not before the court, it is concerning that a prisoner who is identified as being unable to eat the ham sandwich for lunch on any given day must, on occasion, go without and is given cereal instead," Associate Justice McWilliam said.

"However, as Mr Islam had not formally indicated (and by that I mean through the established process) that this diet is how he practises his belief, it is not the case that the Director-General, through the management of the AMC, has refused to accommodate Mr Islam practising his religion.

"Rather, the evidence establishes that the AMC kitchen treated Mr Islam as a Muslim who was able to eat all meat (excluding pork and seafood) certified as halal.

"This was an isolated occurrence, and did not amount to a breach of Mr Islam's human rights."

Michael Inman is a courts reporter for The Canberra Times

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