Monday 19 March 2018

Prisoner forced to slop out in Mountjoy had 'constitutional right to privacy' breached, court rules

Gary Simpson had to urinate and defecate in a chamber pot or other receptacle in front of a fellow or fellow prisoners and then slop out.

Dublin's Mountjoy Prison
Dublin's Mountjoy Prison

Ray Managh

The State breached the constitutional rights to privacy of a prisoner who had to urinate and defecate in a chamber pot or other receptacle in front of a fellow or fellow prisoners and then slop out his shared cell, a High Court judge decided today.

Mr Justice Michael White said he was not awarding prisoner Gary Simpson damages because of his partly untruthful and sometimes highly exaggerated evidence about the alleged harmful effect the treatment meted out to him in Mountjoy Prison had on his health and wellbeing.

Judge White, in a reserved judgment, also refused Simpson a declaration that his constitutional rights not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment had been breached.

The court heard that Simpson had to use and empty chamber pots because he had no in-cell lavatory facilities and.  He claimed he had been humiliated, degraded and had his human rights violated because of the practice forced on him.

He alleged he experienced feelings of worthlessness and that his mental health had been affected by having to endure the slopping out practices in Mountjoy.

Simpson claimed that in 2013 he had to tolerate the degrading conditions while sharing a single cell with another prisoner for a period of eight months in D1 wing of the prison.

The court was told he had been convicted of robbery and had been serving three years in the prison.  He had been granted a voluntary personal protection transfer to D1 wing because he had felt vulnerable to attack from other inmates.

Judge White was told he was often subject to 23-hour lock-up and sometimes got out for less than an hour.  He claimed he could have been locked up for longer than 23 hours before being let out.

Simpson alleged there was no in-cell sanitation and no running water and that prisoners would be provided with receptacles in which to urinate and defecate.  They had to eat their meals in the same cell they had to urinate and defecate in.  They were given a basin, soap and water with which to wash themselves.

He claimed he had difficulty defecating into the receptacles he had been provided with and would defecate into the pages of a newspaper which he would then use to wrap up his excreta and place in a plastic bag. He had no proper in-cell facilities for washing his hands after urinating or defecating and this created a considerable risk of infection.

Prisoners would have to dispose of urine and faeces in the slopping area and Simpson claimed some prisoners would urinate in sinks in the slopping out area that were designated for washing.

Simpson’s counsel, Micheal O’Higgins SC and James Devlin SC, had told the court that the slopping out regime had been condemned in 1993 by the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture and had also been criticised in a number of reports including by the State Inspector of Prisons.

A Report by the Thornton Hall Review Group had addressed the impact of such conditions on prospects of rehabilitation and, in 1995, the State had accepted their concerns.  It had not been until 2010 that the State had started a programme of prison refurbishment to achieve single cell occupancy and in-cell sanitation.

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