By Naved Syed, Board Member of EBLEX Halal Steering Group The Ministry of Justice is being sued over the contamination of Halal meat in prisons, Justice Minister Jeremy Wright told MPs Tuesday. In response to a parliamentary question from shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, Mr Wright said, ‘A “small number” of claims have been filed and would be “robustly defended where appropriate.”’ One of the main problems is that the Halal certifier, who in this case happens to be Halal Food Authority, has taken no responsibility except to say they have taken their certification away from the company. The main certifiers claim to be Halal regulators for the food industry.Their claim is that their organisations have been empowered by DEFRA and FSA to regulate, and to issue official Muslim slaughter men licences for abattoirs. When asking Mr Geoff Webdale of the DEFRA Animal Welfare Core Team to clarify this position, he said,
“I can confirm that there has been no change to the way licences are issued under the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (WASK) in England (new arrangements have been introduced in Scotland since 1 January 2013 under the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Scotland) Regulations 2012). So far as approved slaughterhouses in England are concerned, all licences are issued by the Food Standards Agency following an assessment of competence by the Official Veterinarian. “HFA has no role to play in this process and any ‘licences’ issued by them to individual slaughtermen would not meet the licensing requirements set out at Schedule 1 of WASK. This arrangement will continue until the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2013 are laid before Parliament later in the year.
“As with Scotland, new arrangements will be introduced in England in due course. No final decisions have been taken on the new arrangements that will apply in England and Ministers are still considering the comments received following the consultation which ran for 6 weeks to 24 October 2012. It would therefore be premature for the HFA to claim to be issuing any form of licence under these new arrangements. “So far as the HFA claim to be regulating Halal food and drink on behalf of FSA and Defra is concerned, I can confirm we have no powers to authorise HFA or any other Halal certification body to act for us in this capacity.”
This statement makes it very clear that the only regulation or guidance that should be followed for Halal is the Guidance note issued by FSA and not a certifer. All these certifers can do is remove their certification when a breach of Halal integrity takes place. Many of these certifiers also claim that they have been going for many years, yet when checks are made about their limited status that paints a different story, they all hide behind their logo.
Back to the question, “How far does the duty of care towards feeding Muslim prisoners extend?” It could be argued that the prison services (ie Her Majesty’s Government) exercised their reasonable duty of care in that they served Halal certified food to Muslim prisoners. It would be unreasonable for the prison services to examine the Halal certified food beyond relying on the label that the food was Halal. That it was not, is not the fault of the prison service and they cannot be held liable. However the prison service and the prisoners do have a claim against the halal certifying authority (in this case the HFA) for certifying food as halal when it was clearly not. It contained pork DNA. The prisoners could demand that the prison service claims on behalf of the prisoners against the HFA for substantial compensation since the prisoners ate food which violated their religion in breach of their religious conscience. The likes of 3663 and HMPS heavily relied on their certifer to guide them and ensure the prison inmates had halal food that did not violate their religious beliefs and they should be held accountable.