Irish Penal Reform Trust

Prison Litigation Network: National Report on Ireland

22nd April 2016

PLN NetworkThis report was prepared as part of the Prison Litigation Network Project, which is a European project looking at national systems of judicial and non-judicial mechanisms for the protection of the rights of prisoners. IPRT is the Irish national project partner to the Prison Litigation Network Project.

The report find that while significant improvements have been made to physical conditions in Irish prisons in recent years, a number of concerns remain. Additionally, the complaints system available to prisoners, while improved since the introduction of a new policy in 2014, continues to face questions over its independence and effectiveness, and appears to be significantly underused by prisoners at present. The establishment of an Office of a Prisoner Ombudsman appears unlikely in the near future, and Ireland is still yet to ratify the Optional Protocol for the UN Convention against Torture and introduce the National Preventive Mechanism envisaged by the Protocol.

In these circumstances, prisoners often rely on raising any issues regarding their treatment or prison conditions through their legal representatives. This is far from easy, especially considering the limited level of legal aid in prison cases. Other barriers to litigation include:

  • the “chill factor” relating to the potential of intimidation or victimisation;
  • the perceived reluctance of the courts to interfere in the running of the prisons; and
  • potential evidential issues.

Faced with such difficulties, many potential issues that could be considered by the courts are mediated before they reach that stage, improving the individual situation of the prisoner who raises them. In these circumstances, while there have been a number of very significant prison cases taken in Ireland over the years, the Report finds the impact of prison litigation in Ireland on systemic changes to the system is difficult to measure.

Download the report here: Prison Litigation Network: National Report on Ireland.


The Prison Litigation Network is a European network of practitioners and researchers working to defend prisoners’ rights. For more information on the Prison Litigation Network, visit:

EU logoThe Prison Litigation Network Project is funded by the Criminal Justice Programme of the European Union.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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