Prisoner loses action over being put into isolation due to Covid-19 fears in prison

Judge says between 30 and 40 prisoners in the prison were either cocooning or in quarantine after showing symptoms


The High Court has dismissed a High Court challenge brought by a remand prisoner who claims he is being kept in his cell for 24 hours a day after he showed a symptom of Covid-19.

The action has been taken by Paul Curley, who is remanded in custody at Cloverhill Prison and has not been diagnosed with Covid-19.

However he was put in isolation and moved to another part of the prison by the prison authorities after he developed a cough – which is a symptom of the condition.

He claims that despite not having the virus he cannot leave the cell, which he shares with one other prisoner who is also in quarantine.

Mr Curley, who is 35 years of age, says he was moved to the cell in a part of Cloverhill Prison which is being used to house prisoners in isolation late last week.

He is to remain in that cell for a period of 14 days.

He claimed that while he was not being disciplined he was not able to leave his cell and mix with other prisoners, to wash or to eat with his fellow inmates.

As a result he brought proceedings, which his counsel John Berry BL said were aimed at securing a declaration that his client was entitled to one hour’s exercise per day outside his cell.

The action, counsel said, was not about trying to micro-manage the operation of the prison, and there was a full acceptance that steps must be taken to deal with the Covid-19 emergency.

In Mr Curley’s action, which was against the governor of Cloverhill Prison and the Minister for Justice and Equality, he sought declarations from the court including that his current detention on 24-hour lockup is contrary to the prison rules, and was disproportionate.

The action was opposed.

The respondents, represented by Siobhán Ní Chúlacháin Bl, said that the temporary move of the application was being done to combat the threat posed to the prison by the Covid-19 virus.

Counsel said the applicant was being kept in the cell in order to protect other prisoners and prison staff and was based on medical advice.

He had been fully informed of what steps the prison authorities were taking, and in his cell was provided with extra TV channels including Netflix, and had been provided with extra toiletries and towels, counsel said,

The matter came before Mr Justice Mark Heslin on Tuesday who in his judgment accepted the respondents’ arguments that it was not practicable to allow the applicant one hour’s exercise a day in the prison.

The judge noted evidence from the prison governor who said that temporary steps had been taken, based on medical advice from the HSE and the National Public Health Emergency Team, to ensure the prison stays free of the virus.

The judge said that on any given day since measures to counter the pandemic outbreak were introduced between 30 and 40 prisoners in the prison were either cocooning or in quarantine after showing symptoms of the virus.

He accepted that it would not be realistic to allow each of those persons being kept in isolation an hour in any of the prison’s five exercise yards.

Moving them through the prison from their cells would require large sections of the prisons, including the yards themselves to be disinfected and sanitised, the judge noted.

The judge said that he did not accept there was an absolute right under the prison rules that guarantees a prison an hour’s exercise and in light of the current Covid-19 emergency he did not accept the that the applicant’s current temporary situation was disproportionate or unreasonable.

In all the circumstances the judge said he was satisfied to dismiss the application, but accepted that the case had raised an issue of public importance and directed that both sides pay their legal costs of the action.