Litigation Recent Decisions 21/01/97

Unlawful restriction on talking to journalists on prison visits

R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte (1) Ian Simms (2) Michael Alan Mark O'Brien (1997)

QBD (Latham J) 19/12/96

Summary: As to the lawfulness of a blanket restriction on oral communication between prisoners and journalists during prison visits, in the absence of undertakings by journalists not to use information so obtained for professional purposes.

Applications by prisoners serving mandatory life sentences for murder for a judicial review of decisions taken by prison governors and the respondent, the Secretary of State. Both applicants maintained their innocence and had interested journalists in their cases. The applicants were not allowed to receive visits from these journalists unless the journalists undertook that no material or information obtained during a visit would be used for professional purposes. The applicants alleged this was an unlawful interference with their right to free speech, and that the guidance as to the application of the Prison Rules 1964 contained in Standing Orders made by the respondent were ultra vires, unlawful or at least irrational.