Category A Prisoner Challenging Security Classification Faces 'Catch 22' Dilemma

Citation: [2008] EWHC 1394 (Admin)
Judgment on


The case of Brownhill v Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice [2008] EWHC 1394 (Admin) presents a judicial review of a Category A prisoner’s security classification. The prisoner, Stuart Brownhill, challenges the decision to maintain his high-security status. This article analyzes the case law, identifying the key topics discussed and elucidating legal principles applied.

Key Facts

Stuart Brownhill, serving a life sentence for a murder with sexual associations, had been a Category A prisoner since his initial incarceration in 1985. His tariff expired in 2001, and he had completed numerous offending behavior programs. Brownhill sought downgrading from Category A status. The challenge arises from two reviews by the Category A Review Team (CART) in February and November 2007, both deciding against downgrading Brownhill’s security classification. The CART’s decisions were primarily based on outstanding treatment needs and the gravity of the original offense. Brownhill argued that he was in a “Catch 22” situation, unable to complete further offending behavior work, particularly the CALM program, which the CART implied was necessary for recategorization.

The case revolves around principles of rationality in administrative decisions and the “Catch 22” argument presented by the claimant’s counsel.

Rationality and Reasonableness: The principle of rationality or reasonableness requires that decisions made by public authorities must not be illogical or irrational. As Lord Justice Laws highlighted, if a condition is imposed on a prisoner’s eligibility for downgrading status that is impossible to fulfill, it may render the decision unreasonable.

Public Protection: The assessment by the CART includes consideration for public protection. This involves evaluating the risk of re-offending and ensuring that prisoners undergo effective rehabilitation before downgrading security classification.

Judicial Review Discretion: In judicial review, relief is discretionary, and courts typically refuse to intervene unless decision-making processes fall outside the limits of legal powers conferred upon the decision maker.

Catch 22 Situation: The claimant’s main argument refers to the impossibility of fulfilling the conditions for recategorization due to the unavailability of the CALM course. The judgment navigates whether such conditions constitute an unreasonable barrier to a prisoner’s progression.

Case Precedents: References to earlier judgments, such as Williams [2002] 1 WLR 2264 and Walker (30th July 2007), provide an understanding that the court considers both procedural fairness and practical issues affecting the prisoner’s progression.


Lord Justice Laws dismissed the application, finding that the Secretary of State’s decisions were well within the legal margins of power. The judge concluded that the case complaints were factual rather than legal and that the prison system was conscientiously addressing the issues. It was acknowledged that the unavailability of the CALM course constituted a genuine obstacle but did not rise to the level that would justify judicial intervention. The claimant’s recent unwillingness to participate in further offending behavior programs was also noted as an important consideration in reaching the decision.


In Brownhill v Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice, the High Court applied principles of rationality to uphold the decisions of the CART, confirming the Category A status of prisoner Stuart Brownhill. The case underscores the balance the court seeks between ensuring public protection and allowing prisoners to progress toward lower security classifications. The judgment reflects the court’s hesitation to interfere with administrative decisions that are within the bounds of reasonableness, even when faced with challenging rehabilitation pathways for Category A prisoners. The case also emphasizes the need to examine the practical realities facing prisoners, although in this instance, they did not warrant judicial review.