Today, IRPWA Prisoner Christy O’Kane has won a Judicial Review hearing in the High Court regarding the breach of prisoners’ rights by the Prison Service following assaults on him and other Republican Prisoners in February of this year. The court also granted an order to compel the Prison Service to implement adequate means for the identification of staff by their uniform by 18 December 2015.
The IRPWA welcome today’s ruling and view it as an acknowledgement that Republican Prisoners have been denied their human rights and have suffered at the hands of the Prison Service who have acted with impunity.
The IRPWA and the Republican Prisoners are on record for stating that such abuses inflicted on Republican Prisoners will not go unchallenged. We will continue to use whatever means at our disposal to highlight these abuses and hold the perpetrators to account.
Christy’s solicitor, Ciaran Shiels of Madden & Finucane Solicitors said:
Mr O’Kane was unable to identify the particular prison officer who violently assaulted him because of the absence of any identification marks on his uniform and so felt compelled to bring this action to create some form of effective redress against prison officers who have been able to act towards republican prisoners in an aggressive or criminal manner with virtual impunity. The High Court has now formally declared that prisoner’s rights had been violated and the effect of this legal action will ensure transparency and accountability in that prisoners can now have complaints investigated which are capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those officers responsible.
Today’s ruling also asks questions of the so called Justice Minister David Ford, those constitutional politicians who sit on the justice committee at Stormont and the Director General at Prison Service Headquarters who have failed to uphold the rights of prisoners.
Given this failure, the IRPWA and our supporters, along with the Republican Prisoners themselves vow to continue to assert those rights. We call on the people of Ireland and our supporters abroad to assist us in this task.
Background to assault and legal challengeOn Sunday 1 February 2015, Christy O’Kane was the victim of a serious and unprovoked assault by members of the Dedicated Search Team (DST) on Republican Roe House. Following this attack, Christy himself was charged by the prison service.
Christy demanded access to CCTV and audio recordings of the incident, together with copies of all documentation upon which the Prison Service sought to rely upon in the course of the proceedings against him. Christy further advised his legal team to challenge the lawfulness of the subsequent proceedings.
In the course of the attack upon him on 1 February, he was kicked in the testicles and subjected to verbal abuse by a prison officer who was amongst a group of prison officers dressed in dark boiler suits, black boots and helmets; wearing ear pieces and carrying truncheons.
Christy passed blood in his urine for several days following this incident and was denied access to his solicitor or to appropriate medical treatment or medication for several days, a matter which gave rise to judicial review proceedings lodged on 4 February 2015.
Christy could not identify the prison officers responsible for physically assaulting or verbally insulting him, because none of those present wore any form of numeric identification on their clothing. In correspondence to the Governor of Maghaberry, Christy’s legal representatives submitted that the displaying of such identification was essential so that prisoners would have an effective form of redress for any grievances they would have as a result of the conduct of Dedicated Search Teams, or indeed any prison officer acting in a similar capacity, so that such officers are held accountable for their actions. His legal team contended that there was absolutely no point in having oversight bodies such as the Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman in circumstances where an aggrieved prisoner could offer no specific information to his investigators which might reasonably lead to the identification and punishment of an officer who has acted in an unjustifiable or criminal manner.
ProtestsThe assault on Christy and the subsequent assaults on other Republican Prisoners by prison staff at this time were such a matter of great concern to the IRPWA that we organised a protest outside the gates of Maghaberry Prison on 2 February which insured widespread media coverage of events over the course of a number of days.
Our concerns at this time were exacerbated further by counter allegations emanating from prison officers, the Prison Officers Association, Prison Service Director General and indeed the Department of Justice, to the effect that prison officers themselves had been subject to insulting behaviour, threats of violence or intimidation, as well as assertions that no prisoners had been injured in the course of any tensions or confrontations within the prison.
This fabrication was led bare by IRPWA spokespersons in the media who made the case on behalf of the prisoners.
Previous applicationIn the course of Judicial Review proceedings initiated by Christy, his legal team relied upon a previous ruling on an application brought following an assault on a prisoner in Maghaberry in November 2007.
In this case Judicial Review proceedings were commenced on 28 April 2008 following detailed pre-proceedings correspondence on behalf of the prisoner concerning the failure of the Prison Service to introduce any means of identification of staff working at Maghaberry, and because of the generally unhelpful, cursory, perfunctory and uninformative responses to such correspondence by the Prison Service.
The prisoner in this instance challenged the policy of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, in not introducing a means of identification so that prisoners can identify prison officers, as being unreasonable and unlawful.
On the 3rd July 2009, the judge in these proceedings ruled:
It is now agreed by all concerned that all Prison Service staff including search teams will wear identifying marks… I am satisfied that the relief sought by the applicant is the subject of agreement in principal and the details of the implementation are being settled and are subject to general agreement on the introductions of new uniforms. There is nothing to suggest that the agreement in principal on the introduction of the identifiers is not capable of implementation.
Almost six years laterSince this ruling in 2009, whereby the prison service had agreed in principal to wear identification marks, prison officers still do not wear uniforms bearing numeric identifiers and prisoners who incur their wrath are liable to be intimidated, threatened or beaten unlawfully without any reasonable recourse or opportunity to hold such prison officers accountable for their actions.
Christy’s legal representatives contended that:
this amounted to an unequivocal breach of a clear substantive promise and legitimate expectation averred to by the Deputy Director of the Prison Service in his affidavit evidence to the High Court in 2009.
Christy’s solicitor continued:
Notwithstanding the breach of that legitimate expectation, we further contend that the failure to implement a policy of all prison staff… wearing numeric identifiers on their outer clothing gives rise to potential breaches of Articles 2, 3 or 8 of the European Convention, thereby condemning the Northern Ireland Prison Service to breaching its obligations as a public authority within the terms of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Consequences of today’s rulingAs a consequence of today’s ruling that the prisoners’ rights had been breached; the court also granted an order to compel the Prison Service to implement adequate means for the identification of prison staff by their uniform by 18 December 2015.
This shall mean that prison officers shall be capable of being identified by prisoners and referred to oversight bodies for the purpose of being held accountable for criminal acts upon prisoners and punished accordingly.