Administrative Court decides the extent to which an inflexible policy is lawful


Re: R (Hopkins) v Sodexo / HMP Bronzefield & Anor [2016] EWHC 606 (Admin)

The claimant prisoner sought judicial review of the defendant’s decision to cease to allow her to share a cell with her civil partner. The prison opted to remove the claimant’s civil partner from the cell, pursuant to an “intimate relationship restriction” in its Decency/Managing Relationships Policy, which precluded woman in intimate relationships from sharing cells.

The claimant argued that the “intimate relationship restriction” was unenforceable, as the Prison Act 1952, ss 47(1) and 52(1) required prison management rules to be contained in statutory instruments. She further challenged the restriction as being inflexible in nature, and argued that the defendant’s decision did not consider her individual circumstances, and violated ECHR, art 3 and 8, given the deprivation of care and support that she required due to her disability.

The court held that the intimate relationship restriction rule was not a rule which by its nature required Parliamentary approval. It was justifiable to have this policy in place for order and discipline. It was permissible for the policy to be inflexible, as otherwise order and discipline would be undermined.

The court found that the claimant did not experience treatment that exceeded the ECHR, art 3 threshold, and her art 8 rights were not engaged or infringed. Even if art 8 had been engaged, the intimate relationship restriction pursued the legitimate aim of maintaining order and discipline in prisons, and this was proportionate to the aim.

While the court accepted that the claimant was disabled, the prison had taken reasonable steps to ensure she avoided the disadvantage caused by her disability. Her disability had been considered in the decision-making process, thus the requirements in the Equality Act 2010, s 149 were met.

Hugh Southey QC was involved in this case.