Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

Standard 23: Independent complaints and appeal mechanism (2020)

Standard 23:

Prisoners have access to an external independent complaints and appeal mechanism, including access to a prisoner ombudsman or equivalent.


As prisoners are detained in a closed environment, they are at increased risk of having their human rights violated. Prisoners’ confidence in the complaints system is promoted by the existence of an external independent complaints and appeals mechanism.

Current context:

Prisoners in Ireland still have no access to a fully independent complaints and appeals mechanism. The Office of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction is expected to be extended to prisons. However, the new internal prison complaints system must be implemented prior to the authorisation of the extension of the Office of the Ombudsman’s remit to prisons by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.[442] This is now expected to occur 12 months after the introduction of the Irish Prison Service internal prisoner complaints system, which would be end 2021.[443]

During 2019, officials from the Office of the Ombudsman accompanied staff from the Irish Prison Service on visits to the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. It is of note that the Northern Ireland Prisoner Ombudsman in 2018-2019 received 408 individual complaints, an increase of 74% from 2017–2018.[444]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 23

Indicator S23.1: Prisoners’ access to an independent external complaints mechanism.

Prisoners still have no access to a fully independent, external complaints mechanism.

Actions required:

Status of Standard 23: No change

Rationale for Assessment

It was recommended that prisoners have access to the Ombudsman as far back as the Whitaker Report in 1985.[445] More recently, in 2016, the Minister for Justice accepted the Inspector of Prisons’ recommendation that the Ombudsman have a role in prisoner complaints.[446] The current expected timeline is end 2021. This is a disappointing delay in implementation of a fundamental safeguard in the protection and promotion of human rights.

Action 23.1:

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform should ensure the Office of the Ombudsman is resourced to receive complaints appeals from prisoners.


Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2024 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

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