Supreme Court to consider human rights

Posted: 10th December 2013

PrisonIn a case which throws into stark relief the confusion in the law that can be triggered by conflicts between English and European jurisprudence, two long-term prisoners who say that their human rights were violated by the Ministry of Justice have been granted permission to argue their cases before the Supreme Court.

The prisoners, who are both serving indefinite sentences, argued, amongst other things, that they were not given sufficient access to behavioural and other courses by which they could establish that they were not dangerous to society and that they were fit for transfer to open conditions and ultimately for release.

They argued that their treatment amounted to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, banned by Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, those pleas were dismissed, first by the High Court and latterly by the Court of Appeal, on the basis of a binding House of Lords authority on the issue.

In accordance with the doctrine of precedent, the House of Lords decision was followed despite a subsequent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a similar case that their Lordships had been ‘wrong’ in their analysis of the duties owed by the state to indefinite-term prisoners in such circumstances.

Granting the prisoners permission to argue their case before the Supreme Court, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, acknowledged that 'this important area of the law is currently in an unsatisfactory state' and that only the Supreme Court could breathe certainty into the matter by resolving the clear conflict between the House of Lords and ECHR rulings.