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Supreme Court to consider appeal of prison litigation case

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from a former prisoner regarding the system of ‘slopping out’ which was prevalent in Irish prisons until recently.

The appeal is against a judgment of the High Court in which Mr Justice Michael White found slopping out breached the applicant’s constitutional right to privacy and dignity but not his right not to be subject to inhuman and degrading treatment. The applicant had been detained in Mountjoy Prison for over 8 months, doubled up in a single person cell and under ’23 hour lockup’ whereby he was only allowed out of his cell for an hour’s exercise a day. The High Court refused the grant any damages to the applicant because he was found to have been untruthful and exaggerated some of his claims.

The Supreme Court has agreed to determine to hear an appeal against the High Court’s refusal to make a declaration that the conditions of his detention in Mountjoy Prison amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment and against the High Court’s refusal to grant him an order for damages even though it made a finding that there had been a breach of his constitutional right to privacy and personal dignity. The Supreme Court found that three issues of public importance were raised in the appeal namely:

  1. What are the overall arching principles by which it must be determined whether treatment of a prisoner amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment?
  2. What is the proper approach to weighing the positive and negative factors in reaching that conclusion?
  3.  In what circumstances is it appropriate for a court to refuse an order for damages notwithstanding a finding that there has been a breach of constitutional rights?

The Supreme Court has also agreed to fast track the appeal as there are over 1,000 cases currently awaiting the outcome of this case. It is estimated that up to 1,600 people were similarly affected by the slopping out regime. Whilst the issue of slopping out now no longer arises, overcrowding is still a major issue as is the number of people on ’23 hour lockup’ for their own protection.

The Supreme Court’s determination can be found here- http://courts.ie/Judgments.nsf/5c975dd22ad51b5580257db0003d88a2/843c038e8acbb4e7802582bb0034271a?OpenDocument

And the decision of the High Court here-  http://courts.ie/Judgments.nsf/bce24a8184816f1580256ef30048ca50/e7cd4ff2f1582f45802581c200511e8b?OpenDocument

Rory Staines, Solicitor

9th July 2018