Freeman v Home Office – Case Summary

Freeman v Home Office

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1984] QB 524; [1984] 2 WLR 802; [1984] 1 All ER 1036; (1984) 81 LSG 1045; (1984) 128 SJ 298; [1984] CLY 3570.


The claimant was a prisoner serving a life sentence in the defendant’s prison. He had refused medical treatment for several ailments in the past, and prison doctors had respected his refusals. However, on one occasion he claimed that prison staff had forcibly restrained him and given him medication despite his refusal to consent. The defendant contested this, arguing that the claimant had validly consented to the administration of the drugs. The claimant sued the defendant in battery.

At first instance, the judge found that the defendant had consented to the medication. The defendant had fabricated the story about being forced to take the medication. On appeal, the claimant instead argued that any consent given was not ‘real’. He argued that prisoners are inherently incapable of providing valid consent to medical treatment because of the institutional pressures and influences they are under.

  1. Can a prisoner give valid consent to medical treatment?

The Court of Appeal held in favour of the defendant. In the circumstances, it was clear that the claimant was capable of making a free decision, and he had done so in the past. The claimant’s consent had been real and valid.

This Case is Authority For…

While prisoners are at risk undue influence, this does not render them legally incapable of giving consent. Whether their consent is real and valid must be assessed on the facts.


The Court of Appeal also considered the subsidiary issue of whether the claimant’s consent had to be ‘informed’. Following the precedent in Sidaway v Board of Governors of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital [1984] QB 493, the Court of Appeal concluded that it did not have to be informed.

However, Sidaway has since been overruled by the Supreme Court in Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board [2015] UKSC 11. While it seems that consent is still a defence to battery even if it is not fully informed, a prisoner can now sue in negligence instead if they did not give informed consent.