Murderer challenges Minister’s alleged refusal to decide on application to progress rehabilitation programme

Stephen Carney is serving a life sentence for the murder of 27-year-old Amanda Jenkins in 2007

A man serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend has brought a High Court challenge over the Minister for Justice’s alleged refusal to decide on his bid to be allowed advance to the next stage of a process that will ultimately mean his release from custody.

The application has been brought by Stephen Carney, who was given a life sentence in 2008 after a jury at the Central Criminal Court found him guilty of murdering 27-year-old Amanda Jenkins at Anna Livia Apartments, James’ Street, Dublin 8, between October 5th and 6th, 2007.

The trial heard that Carney strangled his partner of several years after arguing with her over a smell of cannabis he believed was permeating the apartment they shared. After laying her body on the bedroom floor and covering it with a blanket, Carney then showered and went out drinking for the evening, his trial heard.

He continued drinking at events he attended the following day before eventually telephoning gardaí on the morning of October 7th.

Now aged in his mid-40s Carney is serving his sentence at Shelton Abbey Prison in Co Wicklow.

The court heard that he has been making excellent progress and his behaviour in prison has been good.

Carney’s action against the Minister arises out of an approach allegedly adopted by her over the coming into existence in 2021 of a new statutory Parole Board regime for prisoners. The new board makes its decisions concerning applications from prisoners independently of the Minister.

It is claimed that because of the establishment of the new board the Minister has abandoned the administrative processes undertaken by boards that had operated under the former non-statutory system.

His case had been considered under the previous system, which had been in operation between 2001 and last year. Under that regime, the board reviewed applications from prisoners serving lengthy sentences after being advised by the Minister for Justice who should be considered for temporary release.

He had successfully applied to the authorities to be included on a rehabilitation programme specifically designed to prepare him for his release from prison.

A parole board operating under the old regime recommended to the Minister for Justice that he be transferred to Shelton Abbey, which occurred in early 2021, and that a programme to prepare him for his release be put in place. The programme includes that he be given temporary release to allow him to peruse various training courses.

The parole board also recommended that after the first stage of this process was completed his case should be reviewed in early 2022.

As part of that review, he received a positive report from the Prison Service, which confirmed that he did not present any difficulty, had no disciplinary issues and that it was hoped he would “progress to the next stages of his release plan at the earliest opportunity”.

Based on that, Carney expected he would progress to the next stage of the process sometime in January of this year.

Rehabilitation programme

Carney asked the Minister to consider his application to be allowed to progress to the next stage of his rehabilitation programme.

He claims that in her reply to that request the Minister said Carney should engage further with the newly established Parole Board as the Minister is not involved in how that body schedules reviews for prisoners and cannot direct how it hears his application.

Carney claims that despite his expectations, he now fears his application won’t be considered by the new parole board until the third quarter of 2023 at the earliest.

Carney claims the Minister is entitled to decide on his application under the 1960 Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Act but is unlawfully refusing to do so. He also claims the Minister’s refusal means the first stage of his rehabilitation plan, which he has completed, has been extended solely because of the establishment of a new parole board.

He remains in Shelton Abbey without any programme to prepare him for release.

In his judicial review action against the Minister, Ireland and the Attorney General, Carney seeks various orders and declarations including an order requiring the Minister to decide on his application to progress to the next stage of the parole process.

He also seeks a declaration that the Minister is acting unlawfully by fettering her discretion by operating a blanket policy or refusing to consider Carney’s individual circumstances because a new parole board has been established.

In the alternative, he seeks an order quashing the Minister’s purported refusal to decide on his entitlement to progress to the next stage of the process. He further seeks declarations from the court including that by failing to make a decision the Minister has acted outside of her powers, has acted in breach of her statutory duty, and has breached Carney’s constitutional rights and rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The matter came before Mr Justice Charles Meenan, who on an ex-parte basis, granted Carney’s lawyers permission to bring the challenge.

The matter was adjourned to a date in October.