GraylingThe widely castigated UK government policy of imposing heavy restrictions on prisoner access to books, as part of an Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, has been ruled unlawful by the UK High Court, in a humiliating defeat for Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling,  In his ruling, 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 the frequency of parcels and security considerations,” and that he did not “regard access through the [prison] library services as sufficient.”

“The Howard League launched the Books For Prisoners campaign nine months ago and we are very glad that common sense has now prevailed in time for Christmas,” said Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform. “I hope that that the Ministry of Justice will respond to this judgment in a mature way and will not waste further public money by fighting it in the courts. Ministers should implement this decision immediately so that prisoners can get books for Christmas.”

Mr Justice Collins made it clear that there was no formal ban on books in effect under the IEP scheme – but that the policy barred access to them anyway. “There is no ban on books in the IEP but the severity of the restrictions clearly may prevent acquisition and possession.” Earlier restrictions on the number of books in cells, later changed after legal challenges, were described as “absurd.”

What is particularly damning for Grayling is the basis for finding the policy unlawful. Mr Justice Collins found that the books policy contradicted the doctrine that “an action taken by a public body must not be such as fails to promote the policy and objects of the enabling power.” In other words, the policy was so stupid that it contradicted its own stated intentions. Particularly, the policy stressed the importance of books in such a way as to make the reference to them as a “privilege” in the IEP rules “strange,” Mr Justice Collins added.

Grayling was also described in the judgment as misrepresenting what was actually going on. As reported by the Howard League, “an open letter written by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, to the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, was described as ‘misleading’.” Specifically, Grayling’s claim that prisoners could use their own money to order books from Amazon was inaccurate, since it made no mention of caps on prisoners’ spending and income.

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said: “The government should overturn the restrictions with immediate effect. Its reluctance to address the issue, despite the public outcry and support of leading authors over the past year, has been short-sighted and self-defeating.”

In the circumstances, you can see why Grayling’s Ministry of Justice is in such a hurry to castrate the whole process of judicial review. The longer it continues, the more danger that his stupidities will be exposed – like they just were.


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail