Whitehall seeks to reinstate ban on prisoners' press

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The Independent Online
The Government is seeking to overturn a landmark free-speech ruling and reinstate a blanket ban on journalists interviewing prison inmates who try to protest their innocence through the press.

Two prisoners, Ian Simms and Michael O'Brien, serving life sentences for murders they say they never committed, successfully challenged the ban in a test case last year, in which Mr Justice Latham said prison governors were violating inmates' freedom of speech by a restriction barring discussions with visiting journalists unless the writer undertook not to use the material obtained.

Simms, whose appeal failed in 1990, had been receiving visits from Bob Woffinden, a former Yorkshire TV documentary maker and author of the book Miscarriages of Justice. The governor of Full Sutton prison demanded the undertaking following reports that the mother of the murder victim, Helen McCourt, had been distressed by an article in a national newspaper. A similar undertaking was required by the governor of Long Lartin jail, following visits to O'Brien by Karen Voisey, a BBC Wales journalist.

The judge gave former home secretary Michael Howard leave to appeal, but free speech campaigners had expected his successor Jack Straw to drop any further challenge in the light of the Government's commitment to openness, and its pledge to make the European Convention on Human Rights part of UK law.