Ex-prisoners warned against rushing to sue State over ‘slopping out’

Solicitor issues warning as ex-inmate is awarded €7,500 damages over the practice

Slopping out has dramatically reduced in Irish prisons since  2010.

Slopping out has dramatically reduced in Irish prisons since 2010.

 

Ex-prisoners have been warned against rushing to sue the State after a former inmate was awarded €7,500 damages over having to “slop out” while in jail.

The Supreme Court ruled that Gary Simpson having to use a bucket as a toilet, and empty it each morning, for almost eight months in 2013 in Mountjoy Prison amounted to a violation of his constitutional right to protection of his person, and to “substandard” cell conditions.

The unanimous ruling has implications for more than 1,000 cases taken over the practice, and sets out principles of general application to such cases.

Mr Simpson’s solicitor, Cahir O’Higgins, who is understood to be representing around 200 former prisoners with similar cases before the courts, cautioned against mass litigation on the back of the ruling.

“It is clear from the judgment that it pertains to Mr Simpson’s case alone, and while some principles of law are addressed in the judgment, it shouldn’t be seen as something that will pave the way for identical decisions because no case has a twin brother – each case must be dealt with on their own merits.”

Slopping out, condemned in 1993 by the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture, has dramatically reduced in Irish prisons since a prison refurbishment scheme focused on in-cell sanitation began in 2010. The latest figures show 58 prisoners still enduring the practice – 38 in Portlaoise and 20 in Limerick’s men’s prison.

Compensation

Law firms representing ex-prisoners have previously urged the Government to consider a redress scheme which could deal with compensation out of court. Mr O’Higgins said such a scheme could deal “more discreetly with it”.

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said slopping out remained “degrading not only for prisoners, but for the staff who have to supervise the practice”.

The Department of Justice said it was “studying the judgment carefully, in consultation with the State Claims Agency”, which is handling similar cases.

It said the practice had been “virtually eliminated” in Irish prisons, and the Government remained “fully committed to the total elimination” of slopping out.