17 Aug 2022

Prisoner awarded €7,500 for being violated for having to slop out

Portlaoise Prison

Portlaoise Prison house gang leaders and paramilitary prisoners.

A long-running case over so-called slopping out in Irish jails has resulted in the Supreme Court awarding a former prisoner getting €7,500 in compensation.

The Supreme Court's unanimous judgment has found that Gary Simpson had his constitutional right to protection of his person violated by having to 'slop out' in prison due to a lack of in-cell toilets or sanitation.

The practice condemned in 1993 by the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture and criticised in several other reports, including by the Inspector of Prisons here.

In 2017 the High Court found that slopping out by Mr Simpson in Mountjoy Prison in 2013 breached his constitutional right to privacy and his dignity, but not his right not to be subject to inhuman and degrading treatment. He was a protected prisoner doubled up in a single cell with no in-cell sanitation and on 23-hour lock-up.

However, the High Court refused damages because of his finding Mr Simpson told untruths and exaggerated some of his evidence.

Mr Simpson was also refused his legal costs, estimated at more than €1m, against the State. He did not order him to pay the State's costs because of the court's criticism of matters including limited access to showers for prisoners on 23-hour lock up.

Mr Simpson appealed to the Supreme Court which found that damages should be awarded. It also said will be decided later unless agreement on costs is reached between the sides.

In the region of 1,000 similar cases are in the pipeline.

In response, the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice issued a joint statement.

They said they are studying the judgment carefully, in consultation with the State Claims Agency, who are handling similar cases.

They outlined current practice which sees 58 prisoners slopping out. Of these 38 are in Portlaoise Prison and 20 in Limerick.

"The practice of ‘slopping out’ has been virtually eliminated, and the Irish Prison Service, and the Government as a whole, remain fully committed to the total elimination of the practice in Irish Prisons, and work continues through the Capital Plan to achieve that goal as quickly as possible. 

"It is important to note that in-cell sanitation is now in place for 99% of prisoners in Irish prisons. The Government is making a significant capital investment in the prison estate nationwide, to ensure that it provides safe, secure and appropriate custody for all.  The Capital Budget of the Irish Prisons Service was €32.3 million this year and will increase further to €46.7 million in 2020.

"The capital strategy aims to fully eliminate the practise colloquially known as ‘slopping out’, through the provision of in-cell sanitation throughout the prison estate.  Relevant works completed to date include installation of in-cell sanitation at Mountjoy Prison and the opening of a new prison in Cork in 2016.  Construction of new facilities in Limerick has also commenced.

"As a result of these works, very significant progress has been made in eliminating the practice of ‘slopping out’ in Irish prisons. In January 2014, 11.7% of the prison population were impacted. Since April 2016, this has been reduced to approximately 1% of the prison population.  As of October 2019, 58 prisoners did not have access to in-cell sanitation and all of these are in single-cell accommodation," concluded the statement.

A statement from the Irish Prison Service in October 2019 said some refurbishment works have been completed at the E Block in Portlaoise Prison that included the installation of toilets in three cells for convalescence care purposes. In the absence of complete refurbishment, slopping out will continue.

The Comptroller and Auditor General said earlier in 2019 that the Irish Prison Service is involved in a number of pending legal proceedings which may generate liabilities depending on the outcome of the litigation. 

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