Regina v Secretary of State for Home Department ex parte Ian Simms and Michael Alan Mark O’Brien: QBD 19 Dec 1996

A full restriction on the use of material emanating from a prison visit was unlawful as an interference with the right of free speech of the prisoner: ‘The blanket prohibition on making use of material obtained in a visit is not, on the evidence before me, therefore justified as the minimum interference necessary with the right of free speech to meet the statutory objectives.’ However the court upheld the need to regulate access by professional journalists acting as such to prisons and prisoners: ‘There is no doubt that restrictions on visits are necessary for the proper regulation and management of prisons, and for the treatment, discipline and control of inmates. It seems to me to be entirely proper that the primary restriction should be that the only visitors should be family and friends. This accords with the general and beneficial policy to ensure that, so far as possible, an inmate retains his family and social connections. Beyond those categories there has to be some justification, it seems to me, for a visit, in order to ensure that access to inmates is not exploited for purposes which could be inimical to proper management of and discipline within prisons.’ and ‘I consider that a restriction preventing an inmate from communicating orally with the media in a visit unless the representative of the media gives an undertaking not to use the material obtained at that visit is a restriction on the right of free speech. . . . The test is whether or not the restriction is necessary in order to achieve the statutory objectives. In the present context, these objectives include the need to keep visits within sensible bounds for the ordinary management of the prison, and the discipline and control of inmates. This clearly entitles rules to be made which preclude access to the media, in any form, merely for the purposes of purveying general complaints, tittle tattle or other material which may be mischievous or offensive. In particular, as was recognised in Bamber, proper discipline and control includes consideration of the effect of inmates’ activities on others. I am therefore quite satisfied that Rule 33(1) is lawful in including ‘the interests of any persons’ as a material consideration when deciding what restrictions are appropriate on communications between inmates and others. It follows, in my view, that the prohibition on communicating with the media by letter save where the inmate is making serious representations about his or her conviction or sentence. or is otherwise part of a serious comment about crime, the processes of justice or the penal system, meets the Leech test of being the minimum interference necessary to achieve the statutory objectives.’


Latham J


Times 17-Jan-1997, [1996] EWHC Admin 388




Prison Act 1952 47, European Convention on Human Rights


England and Wales


CitedRegina v Secretary of State Home Department, ex parte Leech (No 2) CA 20-May-1993
Prison rules were ultra vires in so far as they provided for reading letters between prisoners and their legal advisers. Every citizen has a right of unimpeded access to the court. A prisoner’s unimpeded access to a solicitor for the purpose of . .

Cited by:

Appeal fromRegina v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Simms; ex parte O’Brien; ex parte Main CA 9-Dec-1997
The removal of a prisoner’s right to talk to the press is part of the process of imprisonment. Prisoners’ letters could be read to the extent necessary to prove that they contained legally privileged material. A prisoner has no right to an oral . .
At first instanceRegina v Secretary of State for The Home Department Ex Parte Simms HL 8-Jul-1999
Ban on Prisoners talking to Journalists unlawful
The two prisoners, serving life sentences for murder, had had their appeals rejected. They continued to protest innocence, and sought to bring their campaigns to public attention through the press, having oral interviews with journalists without . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Media, Human Rights, Prisons

Updated: 16 May 2022; Ref: scu.87906