The Supreme Court of Canada held that federal inmates were entitled to challenge the legality of a decision transferring the inmates from minimum to medium security in a provincial court by way of habeas corpus. In this case, the Court held that habeas corpus should be granted as the Correctional Service of Canada (“CSC”) failed to disclose the scoring matrix for the Security Classification Rating tool upon which the transfer decision had been based.

28. February 2006 0

Administrative law – Prisons – Transfer of inmates – Remedies – Habeas corpus – Judicial review – Procedural requirements and fairness – Jurisdiction

May v. Ferndale Institution, [2005] S.C.J. No. 84, Supreme Court of Canada, December 22, 2005, McLachlin C.J. and Major, Bastarache, Binnie, LeBel, Deschamps, Fish, Abella and Charron JJ.

The appellant inmates were prisoners serving life sentences. Based on a computerized reclassification scale which yielded a medium-security rating, they were each involuntarily transferred from a minimum to a medium security institution. The transfers were the result of the direction from the CSC to review the security classifications of all inmates serving life sentences. The CFC used a computer application to assist the classification review process. This application, the Security Reclassification Scale (“SRS”), was developed to help case workers determine the most appropriate level of security at key points throughout an offender’s sentence.

The inmates applied to the provincial Superior Court for habeas corpus with certiorari in aid directing Correction officials to transfer them back to the minimum security facility. From the outset, they requested the scoring matrix for the SRS, but were told that it was not available. The Chambers judge found that a Superior Court had jurisdiction to review a federal inmate’s involuntary transfer on an application for habeas corpus with certiorari in aid, but dismissed the application because the inmates’ transfers had not been arbitrary and had not been made in the absence of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal dismissed the inmates’ appeal holding that the Chambers judge ought to have declined to exercise habeas corpus jurisdiction because no reasonable explanation was given for the inmates’ failure to pursue judicial review in the Federal Court. The inmates appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The majority held that inmates may challenge the legality of a decision affecting their residual liberty either in a provincial superior court by way of habeas corpus or in the Federal Court by way of judicial review. As a matter of principle, a provincial superior court should exercise its jurisdiction when it is requested to do so. The Court noted that when the habeas corpus jurisdiction of provincial superior courts was assessed purposively, the relevant factors favoured the concurrent jurisdiction approach. This approach properly recognised the importance of affording inmates a meaningful and significant access to justice in order to protect their liberty rights.

In this case, the Court held that habeas corpus should be granted because CSC’s failure to disclose the scoring matrix for the computerized security classification rating tool unlawfully deprived the inmates of their residual liberty. The failure to disclose the scoring matrix, which was available at the relevant time, was a clear breach of procedural fairness and of its statutory duty of disclosure. As the CSC concealed crucial information and violated its statutory duty of disclosure, the transfer decisions were made improperly and were held null and void for want of jurisdiction.

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