Case Summary: Irish Penal Reform Trust Limited & Ors –v- the Governor of Mountjoy Prison & Ors [2005] IEHC 305


Republic of Ireland

Where a case raised constitutional issues regarding the treatment of psychiatrically ill prisoners, the High Court found that a non-governmental organisation which was a sincere and good faith litigant with expertise in prisoners' rights had standing to take a claim.

Click here to read the judgment.


The Plaintiffs comprised a non-governmental organisation, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (the "IPRT") and two prisoners with psychiatric illness. They sought to judicially review the treatment of psychiatrically ill prisoners, alleging systematic as well as particular deficiencies. The Defendants argued that the IPRT did not have standing on the ground that the claim related to the rights of third parties and that the correct plaintiffs were psychiatrically ill prisoners themselves.


The High Court granted the IPRT standing.


Rules on standing were subject to expansion where a person who is prejudicially affected is not in a position to assert their constitutional rights adequately, see Cahill -v- Sutton [1980] IR 269. Psychiatrically ill prisoners were among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society. The IPRT was a human rights non-governmental organisation which was sincere and acting in good faith and had expertise in prisoners' rights. Were the Court to deny them standing, those affected might not have an effective way of presenting the issues raised to the Court.

Points of note

The reasoning in this case adopts a purposive approach similar to that adopted in the English case R (ex Parte Greenpeace Ltd) -v- Inspectorate of Pollution & Anor. (No 2) [1994] 4 All ER 3. In both cases the Courts attach weight to the expertise of the non-governmental organisation which seeks standing, before concluding that they are well-placed to present the issues to the Court. It was material that systematic failures were alleged, which requires an expert body to present the issues clearly to the Court. The reasoning in this case has been applied in Digital Rights Ireland - v - The Minister for Communication, Marine and Natural Resource & Ors 5th May 2010.

The State appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. The State was unsuccessful however, in an unwritten judgement, the Supreme Court found the question of standing should be heard as part of the substantive High Court hearing. You can read more on this case in 'Obstacles to Litigation for Prisoners' by former Executive Director of IPRT, Liam Herrick, February 2012.

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