R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Simms [1999] UKHL 33 was a landmark judicial review heard by the House of Lords. The case concerned constitutional law, and parliamentary sovereignty in particular.

Facts

The case arose when two prisoners who were serving life sentences for murder were denied the right to have their interviews with journalists published in the media. The prison governors, relying on orders issued by the Home Secretary, only allowed the men to be interviewed if the journalists agreed that the interviews would not be published.

The prisoners claimed this deprived them of their right to free speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Judgment

The House of Lords allowed the appeal against the Court of Appeal’s judgment, therefore finding in favour of the claimants.

In Lord Hoffman’s judgment, he underlined the fact that because Parliament was sovereign, it had the right to change the law in a way which would breach human rights.

However, he said that because of this, it was important for the courts to only allow such circumstances on occasions where Parliament was explicit in its intention to do so.

He said:

Fundamental rights cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words. This is because there is too great a risk that the full implications of their unqualified meaning may have passed unnoticed in the democratic process. In the absence of express language or necessary implication to the contrary, the courts therefore presume that even the most general words were intended to be subject to the basic rights of the individual.

[1999] UK HL 33

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