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R v Home Sec, ex parte Simms [1999] 3 All ER 400

By Oxbridge Law TeamUpdated 04/01/2024 07:18

Judgement for the case R v Home Sec, ex parte Simms

KEY POINTS

  • Lord Hoffman:

Fundamental rights cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words. This is because there is too great a risk that the full implications of their unqualified meaning may have passed unnoticed in the democratic process. In the absence of express language or necessary implication to the contrary, the courts therefore presume that even the most general words were intended to be subject to the basic rights of the individual.

  • This case established the legal principle known as the "principle of legality” which asserts that fundamental rights recognized under common law cannot be disregarded or set aside by vague or broad language used in Acts of Parliament.

FACTS

  • Two prisoners, both serving life sentences for murder, sought leave to appeal against their convictions, which was denied by the Court of Appeal. They maintained their innocence and wished to have interviews with journalists who had shown interest in their cases. However, the Governors of the prisons would only permit these interviews if the journalists agreed not to publish any part of them, following the Home Secretary's policy.

  • The prisoners initiated a judicial review of the decisions that denied them the right to conduct these oral interviews. They argued that their right to free speech, within a specific context, was being infringed upon. They claimed that allowing these interviews was crucial for further investigating the safety of their convictions and for presenting their cases in the media to seek reconsideration.

  • In the absence of legal representation after the dismissal of their appeals, the prisoners aimed to enlist journalists as investigative allies in their pursuit of justice and a potential reference of their cases to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division).

JUDGEMENT

  • Appeal allowed.

COMMENTARY

  • The case sets a strong precedent for courts to presume that, in the absence of explicit language or clear indications to the contrary, the legislature intended that even the most general wording should be subject to the fundamental rights of individuals.

  • It emphasizes the importance of safeguarding fundamental rights and ensuring that they are not inadvertently compromised by vaguely worded legal provisions.

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS

  • Some journalists believed that the prisoners were wrongly convicted and wanted to interview them to publish a story on their conviction. The Secretary of State imposed a ban on journalists interviewing prisoners except insofar as they agreed not to use the information professionally. The prisoners argued that the restriction infringed their right of free speech.

  • HL held that this was an infringement of the prisoners’ rights of free speech.

  • Any legislation affecting fundamental human rights was presumed to be subject to those rights (presumed parliamentary intention), unless explicitly stating that it was intended to breach those rights.

    • Therefore the ban made by the Secretary of State, under legislation which did not explicitly permit an interference with freedom of speech, was unlawful.

Lord Hoffmann

Fundamental rights cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words. This is because there is too great a risk that the full implications of their unqualified meaning may have passed unnoticed in the democratic process.

In the absence of express language or necessary implication to the contrary, the courts therefore presume that even the most general words were intended to be subject to the basic rights of the individual.

  • He says that s.3 of HRA will give legislative effect to the “legality principle” i.e. that statutes not explicitly derogating from human rights will be presumed to be subject to them.

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