Prisoners' rights to condoms reviewed

Roger Pearson reports on the High Court decision to give the go-ahead to a case campaigning for access to condoms in jail.

The right of prisoners to have access to condoms is to be debated in the High Court.

The ground-breaking case is being brought by former prisoner Glen Fielding, a long-time campaigner for all prisoners to have access to condoms to protect against Aids and other sexually transmitted infections.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham has given the green light for Fielding to seek a judicial review of the Home Office policy of only issuing condoms to inmates already infected with HIV, or those deemed by doctors to be at risk.

In granting leave for Fielding's challenge, Lord Bingham and Lords Justices Peter Gibson and Waller overruled a High Court decision by Mr Justice Sullivan, who found that Fielding did not have an arguable case.

Fielding was represented in the Court of Appeal by barrister at law Leon Daniel, who claimed that the case raised issues of general public importance.

Daniel said that prisoners might be unaware they had picked up the HIV virus in jail and might then infect others when they were released.

It was argued on Fielding's behalf that the stance of the prison authorities was "irrational and perverse".

Daniel went on to criticise the Home Office for refusing to allow prison medical officers freedom to prescribe condoms to homosexual prisoners, and also for banning prisoners from receiving condoms from private sources.

Lord Bingham said in his leading judgment that he considered the case raised issues of importance which should go to a full hearing.

Although Lord Bingham made it clear that the Court of Appeal was not prepared to indicate "even tentatively" any view of whether Home Office policy was unlawful, he said: "It is clear there are matters that merit consideration."

The AIDS Advisory Committee, which includes members of the prison service, has recommended that condoms should be freely available in prisons: the policy has already been adopted by Broadmoor high-security hospital.