Regina (Hirst) v Secretary of State for the Home Department: CA 8 Mar 2001

The prisoner had been re-categorised and transferred to a higher category prison.
Held: A life sentence serving prisoner, who had served the tariff period, and was moving into the period of discretionary detention, was entitled to be informed of a change of his category, and the reasons for it, and be given opportunity to make representations about it. This would not prevent a move for operational reasons not involving such a change in category. Such a change of category would significantly affect his chances of release. Lord Woolf: ‘I have found the question of what should be the outcome of this appeal by no means easy to determine. I accept the importance of the prison service being able to make decisions which are operationally important without having to go through the technical requirements of providing opportunities for making representations. However, the rules of fairness and natural justice are flexible and not static; they are capable of developing not only in relation to the expectations of contemporary society, but also to meet proper operational requirements. The ability of the prison service to meet both their operational needs and the needs for prisoners to be treated fairly can usually be achieved within the panoply of the requirements of fairness. On the whole, the courts will require considerable persuasion that administrative convenience justifies a departure from the principles of fairness which would otherwise be appropriate in a particular situation. However, the arguments which are advanced by the Home Office in this case, as I understand them, are not only ones of administrative convenience. They refer to operational difficulties and operational problems which could undermine the security and discipline within the prison system.
It seems to me basic that a decision which is as important as the present decision to Mr Hirst should not be taken without giving him the opportunity to make representations and to have the matter properly considered as a consequence of his so doing. I think that there is some substance, but would not overvalue it, in the problem referred to by Lord Justice Simon Brown which arise in reconsidering a decision [paragraph 58 above]. However, regardless of that difficulty, it seems to me that a decision of this nature as a matter of fairness should not be taken until Mr Hirst had been fully involved. He should have been given a reasonable period to make representations before the decision was taken. He should have been given that opportunity after he had been told the grounds upon which it was appropriate to recategorise him.”


Lord Woolf C.J


Times 22-Mar-2001, Gazette 03-May-2001, [2001] Prison Law Reports 147, [2001] EWCA Civ 378




England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedRegina (on the Application of Cawser) v Secretary of State for the Home Department CA 5-Nov-2003
The claimant was serving a prison sentence for serious sexual offences. He would not be released until he had completed a sex offenders programme, but one was not made available, delaying his release.
Held: ‘The Secretary of State is not under . .
CitedPalmer, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department Admn 19-Jul-2004
The prisoner had been sentenced for serious frauds, and was subject to a long sentence. He complained that the governor had amended his prison categorisation from D to B, resulting in the loss of chance to stay in an open prison without giving him . .
CitedSecretary of State for the Home Department v SP CA 21-Dec-2004
The applcant, a girl aged 17 was in a young offender institution. She complained that she had been removed to segregation without first giving her chance to be heard. The respondent argued that there were sufficient post decision safeguards to . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Judicial Review, Criminal Sentencing, Prisons

Updated: 19 May 2022; Ref: scu.85975