The Divisional Court granted a declaration that before the annual review of security categorisation, the applicant, JW Duggan, a category A prisoner serving a life sentence for murder, is entitled, subject to necessary exceptions arising from public interest immunity, to be informed of the gist of any matter of fact or opinion relevant to the determination of his security category and to reasons for any decsion to maintain him as a category A prisoner.
The applicant was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence in 1984 and categorised as a category A standard escape risk. A review of category A prisoners is carried out annually by the category A section and, on reference, the category A committee, who receive written reports and some oral information.
The Home Secretary certified that it was necessary in the public interest to withold from production the reports because they contained information about prison security, information from third parties and assessments about the prisoner.
Tim Owen (BM Birnberg & Co) for the prisoner; Stephen Richards (Treasury Solicitor) for the Home Secretary.
LORD JUSTICE ROSE said that the court was invited to consider the class claim to public interest immunity in determining whether fairness required disclosure of any aspect of category A reports.
It was accepted that public interest immunity on a contents basis properly attached to information which would lead to identification of informants, or impinge on escape risk by revealing ways in which prison security might be vulnerable or by revealing counter-measures to protect security.
The authorities showed an ever increasing variety of situations where, depending on the nature of the decision, and the process by which it was reached, fairness required that reasons be given.
There was no material practicable distinction between a decision of the parole board in relation to the release of a life prisoner, where papers before the board were made available to all life prisoners, and a decision of a governor that a lifer should be category A. Both decisions bore directly on a prisoner's prospects of release. A decision to classify or continue the classification of a prisoner as category A had a direct impact on the liberty of the subject.
There was nothing unfair in the initial categorisation on admission being undertaken without the substance of reports being revealed or reasons being given. But on the first and subsequent annual reviews fairness required that the gist of reports be revealed and reasons given subsequently.
MR JUSTICE MCKINNON agreed.
Ying Hui Tan, BarristerReuse content