Silver & Others v. United Kingdom (Applications Nos 5947/72, 6205/73, 7052/75, 7061/75, 7107/75, 7113/75 and 7136/75) european Commission of Human Rights (1981) 3 EHRR 475 11 OCTOBER 1980

Censorship of prisoners' correspondence


- Whether letter sent by prisoners intended for publication constitute correspondence under Art, 8(1) of the Convention.


The Court held that censorship of prisoners' letters constitute a prima facie a violation of their right to private correspondence guaranteed under Article 8(1).

The Court then discussed the requirements that would allow a government to justify reading a prisoners letters. First, to show that this interference was in accordance with domestic law. That in turn entails two additional requirements. First, the relevant legal rules must be accessible,. Secondly, the prisoners must be able to foresee the consequences of their actions. The second requirement which would justify reading prisoners’ letters is that the interference pre is necessary in a democratic society for the purpose of preventing crime or disorder (Other criteria are mentioned in Article 8(2). The Court then listed some correspondence which may not be read because they don’t fit the aforementioned criteria, namely letters to MPs and solicitors.

The court also found that prohibiting correspondence to parties other that an imates family and friends was an over-broad restriction which cannot be justified until Article 8.

On the other hand the Court also listed some reasons why inmate mail may be read. For example, if letters

  1. attempted to stimulate public agitation;
  2. attempted to circumvent prison regulations;
  3. contained threats of violence;
  4. discussed criminal matters

In short, the court found that a balance must be struck between public safety on one hand and the interests of the prisoners on the other.

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