Regina 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 interview (as opposed to correspondence) with a journalist who was willing to investigate his case and, if appropriate, to take up his case through the media.
Judge LJ said: ‘the starting point is to assume that a civil right is preserved unless it has been expressly removed or its loss is an inevitable consequence of lawful detention in custody.’ and ‘If he is visiting as a professional journalist, or intending to use the material obtained at interview in a professional capacity, it is difficult to accept that the limitation on the entitlement of the journalist to publish the contents of his communications with the prisoner infringes the prisoner’s right of free expression, at any rate in any way which significantly increases the inevitable interference with that right which follows incarceration. As the prisoner’s ability to communicate with journalists both orally and in writing is preserved, what in reality is at stake is the relationship between the journalist and those responsible for the secure administration of the prison. The potential for increased problems with security and discipline, staff, other inmates, and after conviction, with victims or their families, all underline the need for control of such visits to be vested in and exercised by the governor. This is what the regulatory framework is intended to achieve and in the circumstances I have concluded that the restriction currently under consideration is not ultra vires.’
Kennedy LJ: ‘In my judgment a convicted prisoner has no right to communicate orally with the media through a journalist. The loss of that ‘right,’ if it can properly be so described, is part and parcel a sentence of imprisonment. . . . I would therefore reject the vires argument which found favour with the judge and allow the appeal. Insofar as Mr. Owen sought to contend that the requirement of a written undertaking was and is irrational, disproportionate or otherwise unjustifiable, I would reject that submission, . . .’


Judge LJ, Kennedy LJ, Chadwick LJ


Gazette 08-Jan-1998, Times 09-Dec-1997, [1999] QB 349


England and Wales


Appeal fromRegina 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 . .

Cited by:

Appeal fromRegina 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 . .
CitedKelly (A Minor) v British Broadcasting Corporation FD 25-Jul-2000
K, aged 16, had left home to join what was said to be a religious sect. His whereabouts were unknown. He had been made a ward of court and the Official Solicitor was appointed to represent his interests. He had sent messages to say that he was well . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Prisons, Human Rights

Updated: 17 May 2022; Ref: scu.87908