Court ruling on a prisoner with cancer could impact other sick prisoners

Court Reporter

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Court Reporter

cancer prison

Midlands Prison Portlaoise

A High Court ruling court in favour of a prisoner cancer treatment could have implications for other prisoners in ill health seeking temporary release for treatment.

The High Court has ruled in favour of a  prisoner with incurable brain cancer who brought challenge over the manner in which his application for temporary release was handled. 

Passing judgement Mr Justice Donald Binchy also found that a prison governor had acted outside of own powers.

The case was brought by 37-year-old Jonathan Heaphy, who in 2016 pleaded guilty to nine offences under Section 7 of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010, was sentenced to seven years in jail, with three years suspended.

Mr Justice Binchy said that Mr Heaphy was entitled to a declaration from the court in regards to how his applications for temporary release in 2017 were handled.

Following his diagnosis Mr Heaphy from Kerryhall Road, Cork. has undergone various treatments for his illness while serving his sentence.  

After his surgery in 2017, he applied for temporary release from Cork Prison to facilitate his radiation and chemotherapy. It was claimed that there was a reduced risk of infection to Mr Heaphy if he was allowed a period of temporary release.

His applications were refused by the authorities, on grounds including that there was no evidence that the level of care he required was not available in the prison, and a review of that refusal was sought by Mr Heaphy's lawyers.  

As a result, Mr Heaphy brought judicial review proceedings before the High Court,  seeking his temporary release for the duration of his chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

The action was against the Irish Prison Service, Governor of Cork Prison, Minister for Justice and Equality, Ireland and the Attorney General.  

It was claimed by Mr Heaphy that the refusals were flawed because the Governor of Cork Prison had failed to refer a number of the requests for temporary release to the Minister. for Justice.

It was also claimed the prison governor was making decisions in respect of the applications for temporary release when he had no power to do so.

The claims were denied. 

In his judgment, Mr Justice Donald Binchy found that the prison governor had acted outside of own powers when handling the applications for temporary release.

The governor had also usurped the statutory power of the Minister for justice and had acted in breach of the natural and constitutional justice, the Judge also found. 

The Judge, who noted that Mr Heaphy is due to be released from prison in early June, also rejected the state parties argument that the action was moot or pointless.  

The findings of the court could have implications for other prisoners in ill health seeking temporary release, the court held.  

The Judge said that Mr Heaphy was entitled to a declaration in his favour, the exact wording of which will be confirmed by the court at a later date. 

Following the ruling Mr Heaphy's solicitor, Michael Halleron of Madden and Finucane welcomed the decision.

His client remains in custody, and his chemotherapy has finished.

Notwithstanding this he said that the issue raised in the case may not just affect his client in the future, but "prisoners generally who apply for temporary release on grounds of ill health.