Appeal by prisoner who claimed food being contaminated to be heard by Supreme Court

Court will consider if damages due over failure to take 50 day hunger stike seriously

In seeking a further appeal to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the prisoner noted there are 3,700 prisoners in the State and the issues raised in the case are of general public importance.

In seeking a further appeal to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the prisoner noted there are 3,700 prisoners in the State and the issues raised in the case are of general public importance.

 

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by a prisoner raising important issues about the extent of the Irish Prison Service’s duties under its prisoner complaints policy.

The court will also consider whether the prisoner is entitled to damages over the failure of prison authorities to take seriously his 50 day hunger strike protest, undertaken over the alleged refusal of authorities to deal with his complaints.

The complaints included claims his food was being contaminated by other prisoners who served it to him in his isolation cell.

Neither the prisoner nor the prison can be identified.

Aged in his 50s, the man was serving a 12 year sentence for burglary and assault on a 97-year-old woman. When he arrived in the prison in December 2011, he expressed fears for his safety and requested an isolation regime which lead to his being in his cell for 23 hours a day.

When the yard where he did his daily one hour exercise was changed in 2014, he claimed other prisoners were able to throw liquid, which he believed was urine, at him.

His meals were served by prison staff until 2014 after which they were served by designated prisoners.

He objected because he feared other prisoners would put hair or saliva in his food.

The governor told him to avail of the complaints procedure but in February 2015 he started refusing food. Following an application by the governor, the High Court ruled he had mental capacity to undertake the hunger strike and was entitled not to be force fed if he fell into a coma.

After he came off the hunger strike, he sued for damages for alleged breach of his rights under the Constitution and European Convention of Human Rights, including over failure to deal with his written complaints.

In November 2018, the High Court found the prison authorities failed to deal reasonably and expeditiously with his complaints. It declared the authorities had breached the terms of the Irish Prison Service prisoner complaints policy document in the treatment of his written complaints and awarded him nominal damages of €5,000 because his health had effectively recovered.

The governor appealed and the Court of Appeal last year allowed the appeal and set aside the High Court declaration and damages award.

The COA held, while it could be said prisoners are reasonably entitled to expect the Prison Service will endeavour to adhere to its own policies, that was far removed from suggesting a failure to do so gave rise to an action in damages by the prisoner concerned.

In seeking a further appeal to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the prisoner noted there are 3,700 prisoners in the State and the issues raised in the case are of general public importance.

In a published determination, the court said the circumstances under which the IPS complaints policy document may, or may not, give rise to a cause of action is an issue of general public importance. The question of the prisoner’s entitlement to damages was also a matter of general public importance, it said.

A hearing date for the appeal will be fixed later.