Friday 23 February 2018

Ruling leaves State open to raft of 'slopping out' claims

Stock photo
Stock photo

Shane Phelan and Ray Managh

The State is braced for a raft of damages claims after the High Court ruled a prisoner's constitutional right to privacy was breached, because he had to 'slop out' in jail.

While no damages were awarded in the case, as the prisoner involved had given partly untruthful and sometimes exaggerated evidence, the decision leaves the door open for hundreds of other damages claims.

The practice was previously widespread within the prison system with around 1,000 inmates having to slop out in 2010. Some 60 inmates are still slopping out in Limerick and Portlaoise prisons.

In what is being seen as a test case for hundreds of other claims, Mr Justice Michael White ruled that the privacy rights of former Mountjoy prisoner Gary Simpson were breached as he had to urinate and defecate in a chamber pot in front of a fellow prisoner and then slop out his shared cell.

Simpson was not awarded damages due to concerns over parts of his evidence.

He was also refused a declaration that he was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.

However, his solicitor, Cahir O'Higgins, said the judgment was significant, given there are hundreds of similar claims due to come before the courts.

"From our perspective, it is an important vindication in that the judge has underscored that there is indeed an entitlement to privacy and the types of dignity we argued about in the case," he said.

"No case is identical to another case, so each case will have to be dealt with on its own merits."

The decision is likely to increase pressure on the Department of Justice to consider a redress scheme.

Slopping out has long been a controversial issue, with Ireland's use of the practice condemned as far back as 1993 by the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture.

A spokesman for the department said an official had been present in court for the judgment and that it would be carefully considered.

He said the Government had made significant progress in ending slopping out in recent years and continues to prioritise this issue.

"Now over 98pc 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," he said.

The Prison Service said money had been pledged to the refurbishment of an outdated cell block in Portlaoise prison, while construction of a new accommodation block in Limerick is expected to commence next February.

The High Court heard Simpson was convicted of robbery and had been serving three years in Mountjoy.

He had been granted a voluntary personal protection transfer to D1 wing in 2013 because he had felt vulnerable to attack from other inmates.

While there he had to use and empty chamber pots because he had no in-cell lavatory facilities.

He claimed he had been humiliated, degraded and had his human rights violated because of the practice forced on him.

Simpson alleged he experienced feelings of worthlessness and that his mental health had been affected.

Irish Independent

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