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Court can look beyond decision letter in considering rationality challenge


In a judgment handed down yesterday, the Administrative Court (HHJ Carmel Wall) dismissed a claim for judicial review of a decision of the Secretary of State for Justice to refuse to give effect to a recommendation of the Parole Board that the claimant prisoner should be transferred from closed to open prison conditions.

In so holding, the Court declined to follow recent dicta of Eyre J in R (Overton) v Secretary of State for Justice [2023] EWHC 3071 (Admin), that in assessing rationality, the Court could only consider the content of the letter in which the decision under challenge was communicated to the claimant, and not an internal proforma produced contemporaneously by the decision-maker for the purpose of recording his reasons. The Court held that the dicta in Overton were inconsistent with binding Court of Appeal authority.

The Court also held that the decision of Fordham J in R (Sneddon) v Secretary of State for Justice [2024] 1 WLR 1894 should not be interpreted as departing from the established approach that recognises the Secretary of State’s expertise and experience in prisoner management and responsibility for public safety. If the Court’s interpretation of Sneddon was wrong, however, the established approach should be followed.

The judgment of the Court ([2024] EWHC 1534 (Admin)) is available here.

Richard Howell appeared for the Secretary of State (instructed by the Government Legal Department)