Freedom of speech is for prisoners, too

Sir, Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that should be available to everyone, regardless of the amount of time they might have spent in prison.


Yet despite changes to Part 7 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, the proposed measures on “criminal memoirs” are still calculated to deter former prisoners from writing or making art that in any way reflects on their crime – even as part of a process of rehabilitation.


The Bill does not only inhibit memoir writing; it also deters ex-prisoners, including those whose crimes were committed overseas, from creating artworks or giving interviews on their crimes. It is not clear how the courts are to determine the public value of any work created by a former prisoner, leaving the process open to influence by populist campaigns.


We welcome Lord Bach’s assurances that the revisions will limit the Bill to so-called “memoirs” about offences at the “more serious end of the spectrum”, and that “the extent to which the general public is offended” will no longer be a consideration. We urge him to go further, and withdraw these measures altogether, pending further consultation with charities working in the field of rehabilitation, whose work is likely to be harmed by this confused and confusing new law.


Lisa Appignanesi
President, English PEN


Rachel Billington
Inside Time


Jon Collins
Campaigns Director, Criminal Justice Alliance


Frances Crook
Director, The Howard League for Penal Reform


Danny Kruger
Chief Executive, Only Connect


Pat Jones
Director, Prisoners’ Education Trust


To view the original article, published in The Times on 19 October 2009, please click here.


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