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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.


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:

The Office of the Ombudsman’s Annual Report 2017 [526] identifies an expectation that the remit of the office would be extended to include prisoner complaints. This was a recommendation made by the Inspector of Prisons and accepted by the Tánaiste in 2016. [527] As highlighted in Standard 22, the Office of the Ombudsman has been involved in the liaison between the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Prisoner Ombudsman’s Office to see how the process could work in Ireland.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 23

Indicator S23.1: Prisoners’ access to an independent external complaints mechanism: IPRT has been informed that this is unlikely to happen until 2019, [528] despite UNCAT (2017) records stating that the timeline for establishing the Ombudsman’s oversight role in the complaints system is by the end of 2017. [529]

Progressive Practice:

Northern Ireland: Prisoner Ombudsman

In 2005, the Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland was established to investigate complaints where prisoners were unhappy with the decision of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. [530] The system is completely independent of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Since 2010 visitors can also make a complaint to the Prisoner Ombudsman. [531]

Actions required:

Action 23.1: The State must ensure, as a matter of urgency, that the Office of the Ombudsman is adequately resourced to accept prisoner complaints.