The State is bracing itself for the outcomes of around 880 court cases on “slopping out” in prisons after it lost a landmark action in the High Court.
The court ruled the State had breached the constitutional rights to privacy of prisoner Gary Simpson who had to defecate and urinate in a chamber pot in front of other cellmates while in Mountjoy Prison.
Official figures show approximately 880 similar cases have been litigated and are before the courts. A further 1,400 actions are at pre-litigation stage.
There is uncertainty as to whether there will be any changes in how the Irish Prison Service handles the 60 inmates who are still slopping out — although the IPS has pointed out that they were all in single cells and not slopping out in front of others.
“This case [Simpson] is the big one if it found against the Irish Prison Service,” said one senior source. “This has opened the floodgates”.
Mr Justice Michael White refused to award Simpson damages because there were “huge issues” with his credibility, highlighted by both “gross exaggeration” in his evidence and “untruthful evidence”.
Mr Justice White also refused to declare that his constitutional rights not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment had been breached.
The judge noted that Simpson was sharing a cell with another prisoner and, on exceptional occasions, with a third inmate.
Sources said while the ruling does not set a precedent in terms of damages, it doesn’t mean that damages would not be awarded in any of the other 880 actions.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said: “The department notes the summary judgment. A departmental official was present in court and the final written judgment will be carefully considered in due course when it is published.
“The Government has made significant progress in ending the slopping out in recent years and continues to prioritise this issue.
“Now over 98% of prisoners across the prison estate have access to in-cell sanitation and on completion of the upgrade projects at Limerick and Portlaoise prisons, slopping out will be completely eliminated across the prisons estate.”
Figures show there are currently 60 inmates slopping out — 41 in Portlaoise Prison and 19 in Limerick Prison.
The IPS has said all prisoners currently slopping out are in single-cell accommodation.
The IPS initiated a system-wide refurbishment programme in 2010, and numbers slopping out were cut from 1,003 in 2010 to 60 last July.
As part of the capital programme, a new Cork Prison was built and the entire Mountjoy Prison was completely renovated.
The IPS said work on building new facilities at Limerick Prison is expected to commence in 2018 and be completed in late 2020.
It said capital funding had been provided this year for the redevelopment of Portlaoise Prison, which will include the refurbishment of the outdated E Block in Portlaoise and the demolition of D Wing.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved