Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

23: Independent complaints and appeal mechanism

Standard 23:

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

Rationale:

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:

In 2016, the OiP made a recommendation that prisoners “must be entitled” to bring a complaint before a judicial or other authority.[429] The Inspector recommended that this be the Ombudsman.[430] This recommendation was accepted by the Department of Justice and Equality and the IPS.[431] Similarly in 2017, the UN CAT reiterated to the State:

The State party should: (a) Consider establishing a completely independent mechanism for the consideration of prisoner complaints…; (b) Provide for an independent appeal procedure outside of the prison system; (c) Introduce greater involvement and oversight by an independent body.[432]

It has been agreed that the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman will be extended to consider complaints, after the introduction of IPS’s new internal complaints procedure.[433] In its annual report for 2018, the Ombudsman stated:

I anticipate that, subject to approval by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, my remit will be extended to allow me to consider complaints about the prison service. In view of this, my Office has continued its engagement with the Irish Prison Service (IPS) and the Department of Justice and Equality in relation to the reform of the complaint handling system within the IPS.[434]

However, it appears unlikely that prisoners will have access to an independent complaints system before the end of 2019.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 23

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

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

Analysis

Despite numerous recommendations for prisoners to have access to an external independent complaints mechanism, dating as far back as the Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Penal System in 1985 (Whitaker Report) and including numerous recommendations made by both domestic and international human rights bodies, there remains no recourse for prisoners to make or appeal a complaint to an external body. This standard is unmet for another year.

Status of Standard 23: No change

Actions required:

Action 23.1: The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform should ensure sufficient resources are allotted to the Office of the Ombudsman to receive complaints from prisoners in 2020.

References:

Irish Penal Reform Trust

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