Litigation Recent Decisions 03/06/97

Challenge to searches of cells in prisoner's absence

R v The Governor of HM Prison Whitemoor ex parte Ronald Main (1997)

DC (Pill LJ, Latham J and Astill J) 16/5/9Appearances: Miss Montgomery QC instructed by the Treasury Solicitor for the respondent.

Summary: Challenge to the legality of prison cell searches in the absence of the prisoner based on the protection of the prisoner's right to legal professional privilege considered.

Application for judicial review by a Category A long- term prisoner of instructions given by the prison governor for authorised staff to search his confidential legal correspondence in his absence and for a declaration that any searching of his legal correspondence may be done only in accordance with rule 37A of the Prison Rules 1964. If rule 64 should not apply to cell searches, he sought a declaration that access to documents for which he claimed legal professional privilege should be permitted only during a search in his presence. On 12 December 1994 the report of the Woodcock Inquiry into the escape of six prisoners from the special security unit at Whitemoor Prison was submitted to the Home Secretary and had resulted in recommendations including a "volumetric control" of all prisoners' possessions and searches of cells in the absence of prisoners to avoid intimidation of staff.