Regina v Secretary of State for Home Department ex parte McAvoy: CA 3 Dec 1997

A prisoner had the right to know the gist (though not the full contents) of reports used in deciding on a review of his security status. (Lord Woolf MR) ‘For my part, I accept that it is desirable, when something has the impact which being placed in category A has on a prisoner, that the approach should be to ensure, so far as practical, that fairness is achieved. However, in considering whether in any particular situation the procedure which is adopted is fair or unfair, one has to reach a decision not only in the light of the situation of the prisoner, but also in the light of the practical considerations which must apply to the proper running of a prison. The very fact that we are talking about prisoners who have been categorised as category A indicates that they are among those who are the most dangerous within the system. There can be considerable difficulty within the prison service in the managing of those prisoners . .
. . in the end it seems to me that the question this court has to answer is whether the procedure which is in fact adopted on the review of categorisation is one which complies with the requirements of fairness, having regard to the nature of the exercise being carried out. As to that, I have no doubt, having seen the material in this case, that the way the process was carried out in this case was perfectly satisfactory and perfectly fair.
I can see difficulties for the prison services in adopting the approach which the applicant would urge upon them of normally disclosing all the material which is relied upon and, whenever it was appropriate to do so, seeking public interest immunity. A procedure of that nature seems to me to be inconsistent in that it is too formal for the sort of administrative decision which is being reached in relation to categorisation.
The House of Lords in Doody’s case [1994] 1 AC 531 endorsed an approach which involved providing the gist of the material relied upon rather than the actual material itself. It seems to me that in a great many cases the interests of a prisoner will be fully protected if the procedure envisaged by Lord Mustill in Doody’s case is adopted. In my judgment the procedure which is being followed at present by the Prison Service in relation to the review of the category in which a prisoner is placed accords with Doody’s case. That is a perfectly satisfactory procedure, particularly and most importantly because, where appropriate, the Secretary of State or those responsible for the review in practice are prepared to reconsider, in the circumstances of any particular case, whether additional information should be made available.
In my judgment what is done in pursuance of that policy provides sufficient safeguards for a person in the position of the applicant. It does not seem to me that he should receive either the actual information or the names of those providing that information. It is sufficient if the gist of the reports plus any special information is provided to him.’


Lord Woolf MR


Gazette 08-Jan-1998, Times 12-Dec-1997, [1997] EWCA Civ 2888, [1998] 1 WLR 790




England and Wales


AppliedRegina v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Doody and Others HL 25-Jun-1993
A mandatory lifer is to be permitted to suggest the period of actual sentence to be served. The Home Secretary must give reasons for refusing a lifer’s release. What fairness requires in any particular case is ‘essentially an intuitive judgment’, . .
ApprovedRegina v Secretary of State Home Department, Ex Parte Duggan QBD 9-Dec-1993
A High Security prisoner is to know the gist of report and reasons for his categorisation: ‘on the first and subsequent annual reviews, fairness, in my view, requires that the gist of the reports be revealed in order to give the opportunity for . .

Cited by:

CitedLord, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department Admn 1-Sep-2003
The claimant was a category A prisoner serving a sentence of life imprisonment for murder. He sought the reasons for his categorisation as a Class A prisoner. Unhappy at the disclosure made, he sought information under the 1998 Act. It was argued . .
CitedRoberts, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Home Department Admn 12-Mar-2004
The claimant complained at a decision not to reduce his Category A status to that of a category B prisoner. He continued to maintain his innocence of the murders for which he had been convicted. He was therefore ineligible to take part in . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 17 October 2022; Ref: scu.143287