06 January 2006

'Slopping out' breach of rights


A former inmate's claim that "slopping out" breached the European Human Rights Convention has been upheld in the High Court in Belfast.

Justin John Martin, 33, from east Belfast, won a declaration that the Prison Service failed to adequately respect his right to private life.

Mr Martin said the lack of in-cell facilities was "degrading".

A claim for damages was dismissed, but the Service was ordered to pay his costs, estimated at more than £100,000.

During last month's 10-day hearing Mr Justice Girvan heard when prisoners at the County Londonderry jail were locked in their cells at night they had to use a chamber pot and "slop out" in the morning.

Mr Justice Girvan said he was satisfied the Prison Service did not set out to "deliberately humiliate or demean" prisoners and the failure of the system was a failure to appreciate the obligation to carry out a focused enquiry in regard to prisoners' human rights.

He said the effect of his judgement would be a review of all aspects of the current arrangements.

'Parliament misled'

Dismissing the claim for damages, the judge said there was no evidence Mr Martin had suffered from any ill-health as a result of the lack of hygiene.

He said that he could not lose sight of the financial consequences of even a modest award in view of the large number of prisoners going through Magilligan.

"The court must strike a balance between the rights of the individual and the public interest," he said.

"In the circumstances, the granting of declaratory relief represents a just satisfaction and adequate remedy for the plaintiff."

In the course of his written judgement, Mr Justice Girvan said Parliament had been misled when MPs were told that "slopping out" was no longer required in prisons in Northern Ireland and that chamberpots were used only for emergencies at Magilligan.

He said it was regrettable that no senior officer within the Prison Service was prepared to take responsibility for providing this erroneous information.

In a statement the Prison Service said it was "giving careful consideration" to the judgement.

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