Family refused details of detention in ‘padded cell’ due to GDPR, lawyer claims

Irish Penal Reform Trust says highest level of safeguards must apply

The family of a prisoner in Mountjoy Prison was refused details about why he had been locked in a “padded cell” due to GDPR constraints, lawyers for the man have claimed.

Court papers filed as part of a judicial review of the prison’s decision show that the prisoner’s family was informed just before Christmas that he had been placed in special observation cell – colloquially known as a padded cell.

However, the prisoner’s mother told his solicitor that after being informed of this, the prison refused to disclose the reasons why he had been put there.

In an affidavit, the prisoner's solicitor, Tony Collier, stated that he was also told when he contacted the prison that the reasons for his client being moved to the cell could not be given "due to 'GDPR' constraints".

GDPR, or the General Data Protection Regulation, is a strict set of rules on the data protection and privacy introduced in the European Union last year.

In an email sent later that day, Mr Collier warned that the prison’s position “is a misinterpretation of GDPR and that a family member and a prisoner’s solicitor are absolutely entitled to information concerning a prisoner’s personal welfare”.

‘Sensitive information’

In response, an Irish Prison Service officer said that “non-disclosure of sensitive information due to an inability to confirm an individual over the phone enforces the GDPR process so to protect the named prisoner”.

“The prisoner’s safety and family members worries are of great concern to the Prison Service,” the officer wrote. In a later phone call, another prison officer informed the solicitor that he “would not give him any information due to GDPR”.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said that people held in isolation were more vulnerable to potential human rights breaches, "and therefore the highest level of safeguards and protections must apply".

Deirdre Malone, executive director of the IPRT, said: "The Irish Prison Service must have systems in place for recording consent and for verification of callers so that solicitors and concerned family can be reassured about their family member's safety and health behind prison walls."

The trust has previously called for a mandatory notification to a legal representative in cases of placement in safety observation cells or close supervision cells. “The prisoner should be informed that they have the right to contact their solicitor, and should be given an opportunity to do so as soon as practicable,” Ms Malone said, adding that the prison service should publish details about how long individuals are held in cells and whether any of the placements are continuous or repeated placements of the same prisoner.

Concern

“Currently, there is no transparency on this and it is a big concern,” she said.

In a replying affidavit, Mountjoy Prison assistant governor Paul Flynn said that the prisoner, Brandon Crosbie, had been placed in close supervision cell between December 18th and 23rd following an incident in the prison, to prevent him "from causing imminent injury to himself or others".

Mr Flynn claims in his affidavit that the prisoner’s mother was told on December 22nd that “private and confidential information . . . would not be given over the telephone”. A further three attempts to contact the prisoner’s mother were made, according to the affidavit, again to tell her that “information regarding [the prisoner’s] placement in the close supervision cell would not be disclosed”. He claims that the judicial review was “entirely misconceived and unsustainable as a matter of law and fact”.

The Irish Prison Service said it had no comment on the case as it is before the courts.