Sunday 21 July 2019

State could face costly damages claims over slopping out, says lawyer

An Irish Prison Service spokesman said prisons were being improved to end slopping out
An Irish Prison Service spokesman said prisons were being improved to end slopping out

A lawyer has claimed the state is facing potentially enormous damages claims over slopping out after the High Court ruled one prisoner's privacy was breached by the regime.

Gary Simpson was not awarded compensation for enduring the practice in Mountjoy Prison in 2013 and Judge Michael White found some of his evidence was untruthful, lacked credibility and was grossly exaggerated.

But his lawyer Cahir O'Higgins, who has a couple of hundred similar cases, said the Government should consider a redress scheme rather than challenging others in the courts.

"This would be an appropriate step," he said.

During the case it was revealed that Mr Simpson lost his mother at an early age, developed problems with alcohol and became homeless at 16.

He was jailed for three years in 2013 for robberies and sent to Mountjoy.

Mr Simpson asked for a transfer on to the prison's D1 wing for his own protection and had to share a cell with no toilet or taps.

In the High Court action, he claimed his right to privacy, dignity and not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment was infringed.

He was expected to use a chamber pot, too small to be used more than twice without being emptied.

Mr Simpson claimed he had to urinate into empty milk cartons, defecate in a rubbish bag or on a newspaper on the floor and sometimes only got a 10-minute toilet break.

He also said he had to eat while enduring the smell of faeces and urine.

Judge White said Mr Simpson's evidence about the attitude of prison staff to his complaints contained "gross exaggeration and untruthfulness".

He said slopping out only caused a low risk of ill-health and he did not accept his claims that he suffered continuous stomach cramps.

Mr Simpson was not available for comment after the successful judgment.

Mr O'Higgins said: "I think this judgment is an important vindication of civil liberties in a sense of the right to privacy and dignity whilst in the custody and care of the state.

"There are many, many more cases and each case will be determined on its own merits and facts. No case in law has a twin brother or sister."

Mr Simpson's challenge over conditions in Mountjoy is believed to have been the first of its kind to have been contested by the state.

There are understood to be several hundred other cases with other legal firms.

Some 1,003 men were slopping out in Irish prisons in 2010.

According to the Irish Prison Service, 60 inmates were still enduring the regime at the end of July - 41 in Portlaoise and 19 in Limerick. All of them are imprisoned in single-bed cells.

Another 2,058 prisoners have 24-hour access to toilet facilities in private and 1,568 have to use a toilet in front of another inmate.

A spokesman said prisons were being improved to end slopping out.

"The refurbishment of Mountjoy has been completed and now all cells have toilet facilities and have been returned to single occupancy," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the judgment will be carefully considered.

He added: "The Government has made significant progress in ending the 'slopping out' in recent years and continues to prioritise this issue.

"Now over 98% of prisoners across the prison estate have access to in-cell sanitation and on completion of the upgrade projects at Limerick and Portlaoise prisons, 'slopping out' will be completely eliminated across the prisons estate."

PA Media

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