High Court Upholds Right to Liberty in Delayed Release Case: Bumju Kim v Governor of HMP Wandsworth

Citation: [2024] EWHC 645 (Admin)
Judgment on


In the recent judgment of Bumju Kim, R (on the application of) v Governor of HMP Wandsworth ([2024] EWHC 645 (Admin)), the High Court addressed the fundamental right against unlawful detention and the obligations of prison authorities regarding prompt and lawful release of prisoners. This analysis explores the key topics and legal principles elucidated within the case, binding the relevance to particular excerpts from the provided case summary.

Key Facts

The case concerned Bumju Kim, who after pleading guilty to battery at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, should have been released considering his time on remand. Instead, he was taken back to Wandsworth Prison where his release experienced significant delays due to administrative failings. His solicitor’s urgent communications regarding the illegality of Kim’s detention were not duly addressed, prompting an application for a writ of habeas corpus. Despite the writ and a High Court order commanding Kim’s production in court, the prison failed to comply, leading to further legal proceedings.

The judgment reaffirms several established legal principles regarding imprisonment and habeas corpus:

  1. Unlawful Detention: As Mr Justice Pepperall notes, the right not to be falsely imprisoned is “vindicated by the issue of the ancient writ of habeas corpus” (paragraph 1). The principle is that it is the state’s onus to justify a prisoner’s detention; lacking such justification, release is mandatory.

  2. Response to Acquittal and Sentencing: Citing R (Niagui) v. Governor of HM Prison Wandsworth [2022] EWHC 2911 (Admin), Pepperall J emphasizes that remand prisoners acquitted or sentenced must not be detained absent other legal authority for detention, and it is improper to detain overnight merely for administrative checks (paragraphs 2-4).

  3. Communication and Urgency: The judgment reinforces the principle that complaints of unlawful detention must be substantively and urgently responded to, ignoring such inquiries disregards the importance of liberty (paragraph 5).

  4. Engagement with the Court: Highlighted is the prison’s duty to engage properly with court procedures and treat orders, especially habeas corpus writs, seriously and with urgency (paragraphs 9, 17).

  5. Contempt of Court: The judgment indicates that while contempt proceedings were not pursued in this case, repeated failure to respect and comply with court orders may be contemptuous (paragraph 21).

The principles above relate directly to the specifics of Mr Kim’s case, where the prison’s administrative inefficiencies and attitudes towards legal procedures resulted in a violation of his right to liberty.


The High Court made clear rulings on several points:

  • Mr Kim’s detention post-sentencing was declared unlawful.
  • The Governor was ordered to pay Mr Kim’s legal costs on an indemnity basis, suggesting exceptionally unreasonable conduct by the prison authorities.
  • The Court plans to give further directions on the assessment of damages and costs reflecting the gravity of the breach and administrative indifference.


The case Bumju Kim, R (on the application of) v Governor of HMP Wandsworth reinforces the sanctity of individual liberty and the judiciary’s intolerance for administrative inaction or disregard in cases involving habeas corpus. It serves as a stern reminder to prison authorities of their obligation to ensure diligent and prompt compliance with court orders, particularly in the context of detainee release. The ruling sets a clear expectation of immediate action when a prisoner’s lawful release is overdue, drawing attention to the need for proper systems to handle out-of-hours emergent legal matters.