What limitations may legitimately be placed on prisoner’s communications under rule 24.1 of the European Prison Rules Deprivation of liberty does not mean a loss of contact with the outside world.1 Communication of prisoners with the outside world is essential as it serves the important purpose of preventing the prisoners from being isolated, decreases the likelihood of staff abuse and promotes reintegration into society.2 Maintaining links between prisoners and the outside world, especially with their families, is seen as a vital aspect of their preparation for release and regular contact reduces the effects of institutionalism. The family members, despite being innocent, also suffer whilst their loved one is incarcerated and therefore contact is important for them as well as it lessens the pain caused by the prisoner’s absence.3 However, in certain circumstances limitations can be put on prisoner’s communications. This essay will seek to explore what those legitimate restrictions on communication are and in what circumstances they can be enforced in Europe and especially in the United Kingdom (UK). Legal Correspondence
Prior to Golder v United Kingdom4, it was common practice for prisoners’ letters to be read by prison authorities. The prison rules gave the prison authorities power to open any correspondence that they believed to be objectionable but as to what materials were objectionable was not substantiated upon.5 In Golder, the court held that preventing a prisoner writing to his solicitor for legal advice regarding the potential suing of a prison officer amounted to a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).6 Article 8 ECHR is the right to respect for private and family life. For a breach of Article 8 to be legitimate it has to be due to one of the exceptions listed in Article 8(2).7 These exceptions include reasons of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.8 Also, any interference is supposed to be necessary in a democratic society and in Golder, the interference wasn’t held to be necessary and also none of the restrictions under Article 8(2) could validate preventing the prisoner corresponding with his solicitor.9 A similar approach was taken in Silver v UK10. In Silver a prisoner was obstructed from corresponding with a solicitor in order to obtain legal advice and such an obstruction was once again held not to be necessary in a democratic society. The cases of Golder and Silver clearly show that the European courts take a restrictive view regarding when prisoner’s communication with their lawyer can be limited. This was further endorsed in Campbell v UK11. In Campbell, the applicant had a letter opened but not read and this letter detailed legal proceedings which amounted to a breach of Article 8. The court took the unanimous view that only in exceptional circumstances (e.g. where prison security was being threatened) could legal correspondence be interfered with.12 The interference was justified on the basis that the only way to discern whether the letter genuinely originated from Strasbourg was to open it. This was not held to be a compelling reason to justify interference and interference could only be justified if it was due to exceptions listed in Article 8(2). Even then, there would have to be a reasonable cause to assume this and the letter should be opened in the presence of the prisoner to whom it was addressed.13 British domestic law decisions regarding the limitations on a prisoner contacting his lawyer have been equally as restrictive as the European court. This restrictive approach is evidenced in Prison Rule 39 of the UK Prison Rules 1999 which states that correspondence between a lawyer and his client can be stopped only on two occasions. Firstly, if the prison governor has reason to...
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