Prison book ban ruled unlawful

Prison book ban ruled unlawful

The High Court has deemed the government’s ban on sending books to prisoners unlawful.

Mr Justice Collins today (5th December) declared the ban unlawful saying he could see “no good reason” for the rule, “in the light of the importance of books for prisoners.”

New measures were brought in in November last year in England and Wales, preventing prisoners receiving parcels unless under “exceptional circumstances”.

The High Court gave its ruling after the case was brought by Barbara Goron-Jones, a life sentence prisoner at Send Jail in Surrey.

Mr Justice Collins said: "I see no good reason in the light of the importance of books for prisoners to restrict beyond what is required by volumetric control and reasonable measures relating to frequency of parcels and security considerations."

Referring to prisoners' earning privileges, Justice Collins added: "In the light of the statement made about the importance of books... to refer to them as a privilege is strange."

The Publishers Association's chief executive Richard Mollet called the ruling "a victory for common sense, dignity and decency".  He said: "Reading can play a huge part in rehabilitation and to deny this most basic of rights and enjoyments to prisoners always appeared daft and unnecessarily vindictive. Let us hope that the Ministry of Justice follows the Court’s ruling without further quibble and allow prisoners to receive and engage with books.”

A prison service spokesman called the judgement “surprising”. " There never was a specific ban on books and the restrictions on parcels have been in existence across most of the prison estate for many years and for very good reason,” the spokesman said."Prisoners have access to the same public library service as the rest of us, and can buy books through the prison shop. "We are considering how best to fulfil the ruling of the court. However, we are clear that we will not do anything that would create a new conduit for smuggling drugs and extremist materials into our prisons."

The book ban was challenged by a female inmate known as BGJ, who has since been revealed as Barbara Goron-Jones, a life-sentence prisoner at Send Jail in Surrey.

BBC "Newsnight" political editor Emily Maitlis reported that BGJ: “is an epilepsy sufferer, very highly qualified and she has said her life is in despair without access to these books, which have really been taking her through this life sentence that she will serve”.

The Ministry of Justice said the legal challenge came outside of the three-month window for appealing against a new policy, but lawyers pressed ahead, arguing that the policy had been brought in at different times in different prisons and that BGJ had only been affected in the past 10 days.

The ministry introduced its new rules in November 2013, but the news hit public attention in March this year.

Since then authors, plus groups including the Howard League for Penal Reform and English PEN, have been protesting against the book ban.

A petition against the ban has gained almost 30,000 signatures to date, while authors including Carol Ann Duffy, Ian Rankin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Sarah Waters and Jacqueline Wilson have been involved in activity including petitions and demonstrations over the past few months.

The latest move in the Books for Prisoners campaign was a digital advent calendar from English PEN and the Howard League, which featured authors including Monica Ali, Esther Freud and David Hare recommending the books they would send to a prisoner and why.

Prisons minister Chris Grayling had defended the book ban, saying prisoners had access to books through prison libraries.