10 December 2005

Legal battle over jail 'slopping out'

Belfast Telegraph

By Deborah McAleese
10 December 2005

A HIGH Court judge is considering whether to award compensation to Ulster prisoners for being forced to "slop out."

During a two-week legal battle, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, it was alleged in court that the Prison Service had abused the human rights of inmates at Magilligan Prison by not providing in-cell toilets or washing facilities in the prison's H-block.

At the end of final submissions yesterday, Mr Justice Girvan reserved judgment to re-examine the evidence.

The court heard claims that slopping out occurs on a daily basis in the prison, despite Parliamentary reassurance last year by former Secretary of State Ian Pearson that daily slopping out of cells is no longer required in any prisons in Northern Ireland.

If the case is successful, many of the province's most notorious criminals could receive thousands of pounds in compensation for their "degrading" and "humiliating" treatment.

The proceedings were taken by Belfast burglar Justin John Martin, who spent nine months in the prison last year.

Martin, who is currently in Maghaberry Prison, told the court that he was kept in "distressing and humiliating conditions" with only a chamber pot for a toilet and nowhere to wash his hands.

He claimed that if a prison officer was unable to open a cell during lock-up, prisoners had to use a chamber pot as a toilet. This was later emptied in a large basin when the cells were re-opened.

Martin's solicitor, Garrett Greene, from McCann & McCann Solicitors, said: "Prisoners are in custody as punishment for crimes against society and in order to be rehabilitated back into the community. This does not mean they should also be humiliated and not have access to basic tenets of human rights and dignity."

However, lawyers for the Prison Service argued that slopping out was not normal practice.

Just days after the legal action was launched last week, all cells in H-block were provided with wash basins.

The practice of slopping-out was banned in English prisons in 1996.

Last year, the Criminal Justice Inspector in Northern Ireland, Kit Chivers, ordered the prison service to implement a wide range of operational changes within Magilligan Prison to improve conditions for prisoners.

A landmark ruling on slopping out was made in Scotland in February. Now, anybody who has to slop out their cells every morning has the potential to sue the Scottish Executive under the European Convention on Human Rights.

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