Prison Service in dock after lawyer allegedly told to remove bra

Access to client dependent on security protocol, but solicitor felt ‘targeted as a woman’

The Law Society said it has raised issues with the prison service in the past about the impact of security protocols on women solicitors. File photograph: The Irish Times

The Law Society said it has raised issues with the prison service in the past about the impact of security protocols on women solicitors. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

The Department of Justice has requested that a report be carried out into allegations that a solicitor was told that she had to remove her bra to gain entry to a prison last year as it was setting off a security sensor.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) had earlier announced a review of its security procedures after the woman’s case was reported in The Irish Examiner.

The IPS said the review would examine “policies, procedures and training for staff” to ensure people are treated in “a proper, fair and impartial manner, while at all times remaining courteous and sensitive”. It added that it is not prison policy to require visitors to remove undergarments.

The female solicitor has filed a formal complaint in which she says was instructed by prison officers to remove her bra if she wanted access to her client at Cloverhill Prison in Dublin on June 11th, 2020.

“Not only did I feel extremely vulnerable and targeted as a woman, I felt humiliated that my dignity had been so casually torn from me,” she said.

Screening protocols

The solicitor said she had “no option other than to comply with their condition on my entry” because the visit concerned urgent bail proceedings.

The IPS said revised security screening protocols were introduced for visitors at the start of the pandemic, which meant that between March 15th and June 30th of last year pat-down searches could not be carried out due to infection risks.It has since reverted to previous security screening arrangements.

“The objective of security screening at point of entry is to deter and prevent the entry of contraband into prisons,” the IPS said.

In a statement, the department said Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton and Minister Humphreys believe that all visitors to prisons, including professional visitors, must be treated with the highest degree of respect and that no person should ever be asked to remove items of clothing when visiting.

Ms Naughton has sought a report, with detailed timelines, from the director general of the IPS on the issue.

Dignity at work

She noted that the IPS was reviewing operating procedures and its security screening, which includes a dignity at work element. She will will assess what further action may be required on receipt of the relevant material.

The Law Society, the governing body for the solicitors profession, said it had raised concerns recently about security protocols in prisons that affect women lawyers.It said it could not comment on any individuals or incidents.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin told the Dáil that what was reported was “shocking and unacceptable” and “should not have happened”.