In a judgment that may have significant implications for more than one thousand pending cases, the Supreme Court has awarded Gary Simpson, a former prisoner of Mountjoy Prison, €7,500 in damages for being forced to “slop out” and endure “substandard” living conditions, in violation of his constitutional right to dignity.
“Slopping out” is the name given to the process of manually emptying toilet buckets when prison cells without toilet facilities are opened in the morning. This practice has been condemned by European Committee on the Prevention of Torture and the Inspector of Prisons. While the State has made efforts to eradicate the need for slopping out, the special circumstances of Mr Simpson’s imprisonment (the fact that he was a protected prisoner doubled up in a single cell with no sanitation and on 23 hour lock up) meant that he forced to slop out.
In a 2017 High Court judgment, Mr Justice Michael White found that Mr Simpson being forced to slop out for seven and a half months was a breach of his constitutional right to privacy and dignity but did not amount to a breach of his unenumerated constitutional right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Mr Justice White also refused Mr Simpson damages and legal costs because he had “grossly exaggerated” some of his evidence.
Mr Simpson appealed the High Court decision to the Supreme Court. The State accepted that Mr Simpson had suffered a breach of his constitutional right to privacy but disputed the appellant’s claim that he had suffered a breach of his unenumerated right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.
Delivering the judgment of the Court, Mr Justice MacMenamin said that the conditions that Mr Simpson was forced to live in were “distressing, humiliating and fell below acceptable standards in an Irish prison in the year 2012.” He also added that while this should not be described as a “test case”, the substantial legal issues had to be explored and submissions on costs would be necessary.
Click here for a previous Bulletin article on the High Court case.