Broadmoor lost its attempt to prevent publication of a book, but the ruling is still seen as a victory, writes Roger Pearson.
A ruling just before Christmas by Master of the Rolls Lord Woolf and Lords Justices Morritt and Waller is being viewed as good news for the authorities of secure institutions such as Broadmoor and Rampton.
Although the result in the case was refusal by the court to grant an injunction banning publication of a book by a patient at Broadmoor, the decision left no doubt that, given different circumstances, the power is there for those responsible for such institutions to obtain bans of the nature sought.
The case established an important point of principle, says Nick Neocleous, a partner with Reid Minty, which represented Broadmoor and has in the past represented institutions such as Rampton and Ashworth.
Neocleous says: "The issue was whether Broadmoor had the power to stop publication of a book once it had left the confines of Broadmoor. The answer was 'yes', given the right circumstances."
The case centred on a killer convicted of the manslaughter of an occupational therapist.
The authorities of Broadmoor Hospital, where he is detained, had sought to block publication of a book he has written called Armageddon Ahoy. In it he gives an account of the crime and seeks to justify his actions.
The court was told that the man, identified only by the initial R in court, has, at his own expense, made arrangements for the book to be printed and published.
Initially a High Court judge granted an injunction and ordered that copies of the book be handed over.
But later another High Court judge lifted that injunction and ordered the return of the book. And on the facts of the case the appeal judges upheld that decision.
They said that Broadmoor and other authorities were not entitled to block a book such as that simply on the basis of the distress that would be suffered by the families of crime victims.
"If the authority were entitled to obtain an injunction to restrain publication simply on the basis of the distress to the family of the victims then, since I see no distinction between the position of a victim of a patient in Broadmoor from the position of a prisoner or for that matter an ex-prisoner from any prison, it would follow that every prison could bring an action to assist victims. Their statutory powers do not on any view extend that far."
But Lord Woolf left no doubt that, given different circumstances, the judgment could have been different.
"As far as jurisdiction is concerned I regard the court as being able on the application of the authority to grant an injunction if the grant of that injunction is justified in order to enable the authority to perform its statutory responsibilities," he said.
"It must, however, be recognised that, primarily, these responsibilities relate to what happens within the hospital.
"Conduct outside the hospital can affect what happens within the hospital and if this is so the jurisdiction exists in the courts to provide protection by injunction."
Neocleous says: "This is a fundamental point of law. We established it in favour of Broadmoor. On the facts they refused to exercise their discretion in this particular case. But it means Broadmoor and others like it can make applications in future for an injunction from the courts provided they can persuade the courts that on the merits of the particular facts they are warranted.
"We have proved the point and, though we did not get the injunction, the decision is viewed as a victory for the hospital in general terms.
"It is a decision which other statutory bodies or hospitals of this nature can take advantage of."