AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application No. 20480/92
by Gerard McDONNELL
against the United Kingdom
The European Commission of Human Rights (First Chamber) sitting
in private on 1 September 1993, the following members being present:
MM. A. WEITZEL, President
Mrs. J. LIDDY
MM. M.P. PELLONPÄÄ
Mrs. M.F. BUQUICCHIO, Secretary to the Chamber
Having regard to Article 25 of the Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
Having regard to the application introduced on 3 July 1992 by
Gerard McDonnell against the United Kingdom and registered on
12 August 1993 under file No. 20480/92;
Having regard to the report provided for in Rule 47 of the Rules
of Procedure of the Commission;
Decides as follows:
The applicant is an Irish citizen, born in 1950, and is currently
serving a prison sentence in Leicester Prison, England.
The applicant is represented by Peter Madden, a solicitor
practising in Belfast.
The facts of the present case, as submitted by the applicant may
be summarised as follows:
The applicant was arrested on 21 June 1985 in Scotland. He was
charged with conspiracy to cause explosions. He was tried in England
and convicted and sentenced on 23 June 1986 when he was given a life
sentence of imprisonment.
The applicant has been classified as a Category A prisoner.
The applicant has requested that he serve his sentence of
imprisonment in a prison in Northern Ireland in order to be near to his
family and friends who all reside in Northern Ireland. He was born in
Belfast and all family members reside in Northern Ireland. His request
for transfer was refused by the British Home Office on 7 August 1986,
17 June 1988, 4 January 1990 and 5 February 1990. The refusals were
based on security grounds as “the Secretary of State refused the
request for permanent transfer to Northern Ireland because he was not
satisfied on the basis of the (applicant’s) background and reports that
he would not disrupt or attempt to disrupt the prison regime in
Northern Ireland”. Several further petitions of the applicant are still
pending before the authorities. He was given an interim reply on 13
February 1992 advising him that the “request for a transfer to Northern
Ireland remains under consideration in consultation with the Northern
The applicant married on 29 March 1984. He was sentenced to life
imprisonment shortly after the marriage. The couple then became
estranged and are now divorced.
The applicant has two sisters. Both are married women with
families and they do not have sufficient means to visit the applicant.
Moreover, one of his sisters has a serious heart condition.
For the time being, during his seven years of imprisonment, the
applicant has had two visits from his family altogether: one from his
wife several years ago and one from his niece who visited him while on
a job training course in England.
Since his detention in 1985 the applicant has been transferred
six times to different English prisons.
The applicant submits that the conditions of detention for Irish
Republican prisoners in England are considerably worse than those for
their counterparts in Northern Ireland. Unlike the position in
Northern Ireland, the applicant and other Irish Republican prisoners
are completely segregated from each other unless one or two prisoners
are in the same establishment due to the fact that there are no other
prisons available. Irish Republican prisoners are generally held in
solitary confinement, in isolation, and dispersed throughout as many
available prison establishments as are in existence throughout England.
There is a policy of regular transfer from prison to prison, resulting
in the prisoners being unable to settle into familiar surroundings,
which has an adverse effect on health for prisoners serving lengthy
RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
a) Visit entitlement
The Prison Rules 1964 (S.I. 1964/388), made by statutory
instrument under the Prison Act 1952, Sections 47 and 52, contain,
inter alia, the following provisions:
“31.(1) Special attention shall be paid to the maintenance of
such relations between a prisoner and his family as are
desirable in the best interests of both.
(2) A prisoner shall be encouraged and assisted to establish and
maintain such relations with persons and agencies outside prison
as may, in the opinion of the governor, best promote the
interests of his family and his own social rehabilitation.”
34(1) An unconvicted prisoner may … receive as many visits as
he wishes within such limits and subject to such conditions as
the Secretary of State may direct, either generally or in a
(2) A convicted prisoner shall be entitled –
…(b) To receive a visit once in four weeks …”
From April 1992, the normal visit entitlement was increased to
two visits in every period of four weeks.
Accumulated Visits (Standing Order):
“Subject to the provisions of Orders 5A 12-18 … convicted
inmates may be allowed to accumulate visits up to a maximum
of 12 and apply … to be temporarily transferred to any
local prison to take their visits. Category A inmates …
must petition for temporary transfer … An inmate must
have accumulated at least 3 visits before he can be
transferred to take accumulated visits.”
b) Temporary transfer
The Criminal Justice Act 1961 and Standing Order 5A provide that
a prisoner may apply for temporary transfer to another prison to
receive visits. These may be from a close relative or relatives who
may also be in custody. “Close relative” is defined so as to include
“sister”. The material provision is Section 27(1) of the Criminal
Justice Act 1961 which provides that:
“The responsible minister may, on the application of a
person serving a sentence of imprisonment or detention in
any part of the United Kingdom, make an order for his
temporary transfer to another part of the United Kingdom…
and for his removal to an appropriate institution there.”
c) Permanent transfer
Section 26 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides inter alia:
“(1) The responsible Minister may, on the application of
a person serving a sentence of imprisonment or detention in
any part of the United Kingdom, make an order for his
transfer to another part of the United Kingdom, there to
serve the remainder of his sentence, and for his removal to
an appropriate institution [there]…
(4) Subject to the following provisions of this section, a
person transferred under this section to any part of the United
Kingdom there to serve his sentence or the remainder of his
sentence shall be treated for purposes of detention, release,
supervision, recall and otherwise as if that sentence (and any
other sentence to which he may be subject) had been an equivalent
sentence passed by a court in the place to which he is
In a written decision relating to a request by a prisoner for
permanent transfer from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland the
Secretary of State indicated the criteria he would apply in exercising
his discretion to transfer prisoners. That decision reads, in part,
“Revised criteria governing the transfer of prisoners to
another jurisdiction in the United Kingdom were announced
in reply to a Parliamentary question on 23 June 1989.
These provide that an inmate’s request to be transferred
will, normally, be granted provided that all the following
conditions are met:
(i) the inmate would have at least six months left to
serve in the receiving jurisdiction before his or her date
(ii) the inmate was ordinarily resident in the receiving
jurisdiction prior to the current sentence or his or her
close family currently reside there and there are
reasonable grounds for believing that it is the inmate’s
firm intention to take up residence there on release; and
(iii) both departments concerned are reasonably satisfied
that the inmate will not, if transferred, disrupt or
attempt to disrupt any prison establishment or otherwise
pose an unacceptable risk to security.
It was also stated, however, that even if these criteria
were met, transfer may be refused if it is considered that
the inmate’s crimes were so serious as to render him or her
undeserving of any degree of public sympathy or to make it
inappropriate that the inmate should benefit from a
substantial reduction in the time left to serve if that
would be a consequence of transfer.
Similarly, transfers may be refused if there are reasonable
grounds for believing that the inmate’s primary intention
in making the application is to secure a reduction in the
time left to serve. On the other hand, an application that
does not meet these conditions may, nevertheless, be
granted where there are strong compassionate or other
compelling grounds for transfer”.
d) Differences in release policies and procedures
The law and practice relating to the proportion of a sentence
which must be served before release differs between the three United
Kingdom jurisdictions. Prisoners serving determinate sentences in
England and Wales are entitled to one-third remission of their
sentence. Prisoners in Northern Ireland are generally entitled to
remission of one half of their sentence. There are also differences
in the administration of life sentences so that those serving sentences
for comparable offences are generally released earlier in Northern
Ireland than they would be if they were sentenced in England and Wales.
e) Categorisation of prisoners
Category A prisoners are defined as those whose escape would be
highly dangerous to the public, or to the police, or to the security
of the State, no matter how unlikely that escape might be. Category
A prisoners are further classified as presenting either a standard,
high, or an exceptional escape risk. Prisoners assessed as Category
A (Exceptional Risk) are located in Special Security Units within
prisons. In deciding on a prisoner’s categorisation, account is taken
of the nature and circumstances of the offence, details of any previous
convictions, where appropriate, the prisoner’s mental state, and
reports from police, prison and other sources. The need to continue
to hold a confirmed Category A inmate in the highest security category
is reviewed at least once every 12 months on the basis of up to date
Category A prisoners are subject to certain restrictions. Their
movements within the prison are escorted and are closely monitored and
recorded. Their visitors have to be approved and their photographs
verified by the police under special arrangements known as the Approved
Visitors Scheme. They are subject to frequent cell changes. They are
not permitted to work in the prison kitchen. In addition, prisoners
in Special Security Units do not have access to prison workshops.
The applicant complains that the refusal of a transfer is in
violation of his right to respect for his private and family life as
guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention. He submits that alternative
prison accommodation is available in Northern Ireland and that there
is no valid reason for refusing the transfer. The denial of a transfer
is deliberately and unnecessarily punitive.
The applicant also complains that he is discriminated against on
the grounds of political or other opinion, national origin and
association with a national minority, contrary to Article 14 of the
Convention. In particular, he submits that Irish Republican prisoners
are discriminated against as a class in that they are treated less
favourably than other prisoners in relation to questions of transfer.
The applicant further submits that he has no effective remedy as
required by Article 13 of the Convention.
1. The applicant complains that the refusal to transfer him
permanently to a prison in Northern Ireland to facilitate visits from
his family is a violation of Article 8 (Art. 8) of the Convention.
Article 8 (Art. 8) of the Convention provides as follows:
“1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and
family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority
with the exercise of this right except such as in
accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic
society in the interests of national security, public
safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the
prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of
health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and
freedoms of others.”
The Commission recalls that it has held, in the context of
prisoners or other persons who are detained, that the concept of
“family life” must be given a wider scope than in other situations:
“Prisoners generally have limited means of contact with the outside
community and of maintaining relationships with family members.
‘Family life’ for prisoners is inevitably restricted to visits,
correspondence and possibly other forms of communication such as
telephone calls. Emotional dependency between, for example, parents
and adult children, or siblings is even enhanced in these
circumstances. The Commission recalls in this context that the
European Prison Rules emphasise the need to encourage these links:
’65. Every effort shall be made to ensure that the regimes of
the institutions are designed and managed so as:
(c) to sustain and strengthen those links with relatives and
the outside community that will promote the best interests of
prisoners and their families.'”
(No. 19085/91, Dec. 9.12.92, to be published in D.R.).
The Commission has also stated the opinion that Article 8
(Art. 8) requires the State to assist prisoners as far as possible to
create and sustain ties with people outside prison in order to
facilitate prisoners’ social rehabilitation (e.g. No. 9054/80, Dec.
8.10.82, D.R. 30 p. 113, and No. 15817/89, Dec. 1.10.90, to be
published in D.R.).
In light of these factors, the Commission finds that the
applicant’s complaint must be held as falling within the scope of
Article 8 para. 1 (Art. 8-1) of the Convention.
The applicant has submitted that the refusal of permanent
transfer constitutes an interference with his right to respect for his
family life. The Commission considers however that the applicant is
arguing, in effect, not that the State should refrain from acting, but
rather that it should take steps to implement a particular policy.
Although the essential object of Article 8 (Art. 8) is to protect the
individual against arbitrary interference by public authorities, there
may be positive obligations inherent in an effective “respect” for
family life (see e.g. Eur. Court H.R., Marckx judgment of 13 June 1979,
Series A no. 31, p. 14 para. 31). In this context, the notion of
“respect” is not clear-cut and its requirements will vary considerably
from case to case according to the practices followed and the
situations obtaining in Contracting States. In determining whether or
not such an obligation exists, regard must be had to the fair balance
which has to be struck between the general interest and the interests
of the individual (see e.g. Eur. Court H. R., Abdulaziz, Cabales and
Balkandali judgment of 28 May 1985, Series A no. 94, p. 33 para. 67,
and the B. v. France judgment of 25 March 1992, to be published in
Series A no. 232-C para. 44).
The Commission recalls that in the present case the applicant,
who is from Northern Ireland, is detained in a prison in England and
that he has requested a transfer to facilitate visits from his family.
The Commission notes that the applicant is serving life imprisonment
and that the considerable distance involved imposes difficulties in
utilising visit entitlements which cannot be said to be negligible.
The Commission notes, however, that the applicant is lawfully
detained for serious offences committed against the background of a
terrorist campaign. The applicant is detained as a Category A prisoner.
Any transfer would be arguably highly dangerous, increasing greatly the
risk of escape.
The Commission also refers to its constant case-law according to
which a prisoner has no right as such under the Convention to choose
the place of his confinement and that a separation of a detained person
from his family and the hardship resulting from it are the inevitable
consequences of detention (see e.g. No. 5229/71, Dec. 5.10.72,
Collection 42 p. 14, and No. 5712/72, Dec. 18.7.74, Collection 46 p.
112). The Commission considers that only in exceptional circumstances
will the detention of a prisoner a long way from his home or family
infringe the requirements of Article 8 (Art. 8) of the Convention (see
e.g. No. 5712/72, Dec. 18.7.74 loc. cit., and No. 7819/77, Dec. 6.5.78,
published in part, D.R. 14, p. 586).
The Commission finds that no exceptional circumstances arise in
this case. It notes that the applicant is detained in England since
he was arrested and tried there in respect of offences committed as
part of an alleged terrorist campaign in England. As a prisoner, the
applicant is subject to the normal regime applicable to his category
as regards correspondence and visits.
Having regard to the above circumstances, the Commission finds
that the decision of the United Kingdom Government to refuse transfer
arrangements to Northern Ireland discloses no lack of respect for the
applicant’s family life within the meaning of Article 8 (Art. 8) of the
It follows that the complaint is manifestly ill-founded within
the meaning of Article 27 para. 2 (Art. 27-2) of the Convention.
2. The applicant also complains that he is discriminated against
contrary to Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 (Art. 14+8) of the
Convention since Irish Republican prisoners in the United Kingdom are
treated less favourably than other prisoners as regards transfer.
Article 14 (Art. 14) of the Convention provides as follows:
“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this
Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground
such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other
opinion, national or social origin, association with a national
minority, property, birth or other status.”
The Commission notes that the applicant does not contend that
there is a blanket prohibition on transfer of Irish Republican
prisoners to Northern Ireland. In the present case, the Commission
recalls that the applicant was refused transfer on security grounds.
Insofar as this refusal can be said to be motivated by the applicant’s
status as an Irish Republican prisoner, the Commission considers that
different considerations concerning security apply to different
prisoners. It recalls that the applicant is a Category A (high
security or exceptional risk) prisoner convicted in relation to
terrorist offences. In these circumstances, his position cannot be
considered as analogous to that of other prisoners for the purposes of
Article 14 (Art. 14) of the Convention.
It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded within
the meaning of Article 27 para. 2 (Art. 27-2) of the Convention.
3. The applicant further complains under Article 13 (Art. 13) of the
Convention that he has no effective remedy in respect of his
Article 13 (Art. 13), however, does not require a remedy under
domestic law in respect of any alleged violation of the Convention.
It only applies if the individual can be said to have an “arguable
claim” of a violation of the Convention (Eur. Court H.R., Boyle and
Rice judgment of 27 April 1988, Series A no. 131, p. 23 para. 52).
The Commission recalls that it has rejected the applicant’s
complaints under Articles 8 and 14 (Art. 8, 14) of the Convention, no
lack of respect for the applicant’s family life and no unlawful
discrimination having been disclosed. In these circumstances, the
Commission also finds that the applicant cannot be said to have an
“arguable claim” of a violation of the Convention necessitating an
Article 13 (Art. 13) remedy. It follows that this part of the
application must also be rejected as being manifestly ill-founded
within the meaning of Article 27 para. 2 (Art. 27-2) of the Convention.
For these reasons, the Commission by a majority
DECLARES THE APPLICATION INADMISSIBLE.
Secretary to the First Chamber President of the First Chamber
(M. F. BUQUICCHIO) (A. WEITZEL)