The Department of Justice is “studying carefully” a judgment from the Supreme Court which ruled an inmate at Mountjoy Prison’s rights had been breached when he was forced to ‘slop out’ his cell.
Gary Simpson, who spent a period of 7.5 months slopping out at Mountjoy in 2013, was awarded €7,500 in damages by the court to which he had appealed after his request for €1m in costs was denied at the High Court in 2017.
The case is seen as having set a precedent in the Irish courts regarding the 1,200 such cases which remain in the system.
The department said that it is considering the decision’s implications in conjunction with the State Claims Agency, which handles costs payouts in cases where the State is deemed to be liable.
A spokesperson said that the practice of slopping out — where a prisoner is required to personally empty their toilet facility each morning — has been “virtually eliminated” in Ireland.
“The Irish Prison Service, and the Government as a whole, remain fully committed to the total elimination of the practice in Irish Prisons, and work continues through the Capital Plan to achieve that goal as quickly as possible,” they said, adding that in-cell sanitation is now in place for 99% of prisoners here.
It is understood that only two prisons in the country still employ the practice of slopping out — Limerick and Portlaoise — with just 58 prisoners affected.
By contrast, about 1,000 men had been subject to the practice in 2010, when the State first embarked upon a programme of prison refurbishment.
Justice John MacMenamin, in ruling in Simpson’s favour, said his case could not be described as a “test”, but that nevertheless “submissions on costs would be necessary”.
Were each of the outstanding cases to be decided on a like-for-like basis, the cost to the State could be in the region of €9m.
However, the far larger figure would be that of legal costs, which have yet to be determined in the Simpson case.
Reacting to the Supreme Court decision, Fíona Ní Chinnéide, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said that while “costs are vitally important to people who have experienced ill-treatment, what we draw from this is the necessity of meeting basic human rights norms into the future”.
Ms Ní Chinnéide said that “1,800 men and women in Ireland are required to toilet in the presence of others”, is a fact “that must be addressed”.
“This can be achieved by implementing single-cell policies across the State.
More than 70% of custodial sentences in 2018 were for less than 12 months — these would be better off dealt with in the community, which in turn would free up space in the prisons, she said.