Two ‘slopping out’ actions mentioned before the High Court

Two cases brought by former prisoners over having to ‘slop out’ have been mentioned before the High Court.

In one action, Susan McGovern, a former prisoner at Limerick Women’s Prison, claims she was subject to degrading treatment when subject to the slopping out regime between 2000 and 2003 and from April 2012 to May 2013.

Ms McGovern has sued the Irish Prison Service, the Minister for Justice, Ireland, the Attorney General and the Governor of Limerick Prison.

She claims her rights were breached after she was made to sleep on a mattress in overcrowded cells that lacked toilets, where she and her former cellmates were provided with a small bucket and had to go to the toilet in the plain view of each other.

She had to queue with other prisoners while waiting to empty it, she claims, and the cells were poorly ventilated, chaotic and unhygienic.

The slopping out regime affected her physical and mental health and deprived her of her human dignity, she claims.

As a result of the conditions of her incarceration, Ms McGovern, represented in court by Rachel McGovern BL, has brought a damages claim against the State and the prison authorities, alleging breaches of her constitutional rights and rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The claims are denied. The state parties, represented by Frederick Gilligan BL, say that the claim should be dismissed on ground including that the claim is statute barred.

When the matter was briefly mentioned before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds yesterday, counsel argued that the case should be considered by a state redress board set up following a ruling in one of many cases brought over the slopping out regime in the State’s prisons.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that former prisoner Gary Simpson was entitled to €7,500 damages over his prison conditions including having to slop out while he was in jail.

This was because he had to use a bucket as a toilet, and empty it each morning, for almost eight months in 2013 in Mountjoy Prison, which amounted to a violation of his constitutional right to protection of his person, and to “substandard” cell conditions.

Ms Justice Reynolds, who directed that the state parties file a defence to Ms McGovern’s claim within 12 weeks, adjourned the action.

Another slopping out claim, taken by Christoper Coakley arising out of his detention at Mountjoy in 2011 and in 2012, was briefly mentioned before the Master of the High Court.

He had claimed that during his incarceration he was placed with other inmates with cells that lacked toilets and any running water.

He would have to defecate into a pot or bag or newspapers in the presence of cellmates, and was present when they did the same, it was alleged.

The Master was due to deal with an application brought by Mr Coakley’s lawyers, in the wake of the Mr Simpson ruling, to remit the claim to the Circuit Court.

However, the Master Edmund Honohan SC was told that the case could be struck out as the claim had been resolved between the parties.

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