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Complainant Name:
Messrs Hickman Rose

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: The Times


Messrs Hickman Rose, Solicitors, of London complained on behalf of a number of prisoners that two articles in The Times on 23 and 28 March 1998, headlined "More prisoners lodge claims of jail assault" and "Inmates moved" identified those who had made allegations of assault by prison officers, purported to identify their new prison or hospital location following prison transfers made for their own safety and therefore invaded their privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

The complainants were a number of convicted prisoners who had made allegations of assault by prison officers. The newspaper published two articles on the subject matter of the alleged assaults, purporting to identify a number of complainants by name and identifying their new prison or hospital location following transfer.

The solicitors for the complainants did not dispute that the subject matter of the articles was a matter of public interest but contended that any naming of the persons who had made the complaint or their alleged destination was a breach of Clause 3 of the Code. They said there was no public interest in identifying the names of any of the complainants or their whereabouts and suggested that such information put their clients at risk.

The solicitors also contended that newspapers were bound by a duty of confidentiality in relation to the names and locations, such a duty arising from the nature of the complaints, the need for the effective operation of the internal inquiry set up and a wider public interest in the maintenance of confidentiality in the circumstances of this particular case.

The newspaper contended that the complainants were prisoners who had, on conviction, forfeited their right to privacy under the Code and that the newspaper had a right properly to report details of the circumstances in which the complaints against the prison officers were made. It argued that prisoners, on conviction, have on any basis forfeited the usual right to organise and conduct a private family life free of State interference , and that it would be a restriction on free speech if the newspaper was not allowed to report the information concerned.

Not Upheld


The Commission does not accept the newspaper's contention that convicted persons serving terms of imprisonment are not fully entitled to the protection of the privacy clause of the Code of Practice. In appropriate circumstances the Commission has in the past sought - and will do so again - to protect a prisoner's rights to privacy where no public interest element is present.

That said, both parties accept there was a public interest in the newspaper reporting details of the allegations which had been made. In this context the Commission regards details of the complainants and their location as proper and justifiable elements of the articles which the newspaper had a discretion whether to report or not. The Code is there, in part, to give protection to the vulnerable.

Furthermore, the Commission does not accept that the Code requires newspapers or periodicals to be bound by any implicit or express duty of confidentiality arising between the complainants and the prison authorities. If such a duty exists under the general law then it is not a matter for the Commission - but for the complainants to take the appropriate legal action to protect their anonymity or locations.

The complaint was rejected.


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