Prisoners, Media and Society

AuthorJudge Michael Reilly
PositionInspector of Prisons
[2017] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 1 57
In Memoriam: Judge Michael Reilly, Inspector of Prisons
This is the unedited text of a speech given by Judge Michael Reilly (RIP) at an event at the School of Law,
University of Limerick on October 6, 2016 at an event to mark the launch of the R eport on Deaths in Custody
under the Advanced Lawyering Programme for LLB Students.
I would like to start by reading the following:-
The majority of the persons attending were of the lower classes from the dens of the city, from the
reeking alleys and homeless haunts. They came in all their repulsiveness and wretchedness for the
purpose of gratifying a morbid feeling of curiosity and being near the scene of the execution of a fellow
While you think about those lines, when they might have been written and what they might
refer to I would like to thank you Chairman for your kind words of introduction and to the
Law School here in the University of Limerick for inviting me to talk about a topic near to my
heart namely Prisoners, Media and Society.
The topic this evening is a broad subject. I wish to explore one aspect and that is whether
certain headlines in the popular press are fair and the extent to which the popular press and
our views contribute, if they do, to penal policy in this country. I do not intend to seek to
explore the legal concepts of the rights to freedom of expression or the rights of people to
privacy. Rather, I wish, in the first place, to look at how an interpretation of the concept of
freedom of expression in certain organs of the press affects one small section of our society,
namely, our prisoners and by extension their families. In this context I will look at the
remedies, if any, that such people have if unfair, salacious or self serving headlines are printed
or if reports are inaccurate.
I will then go on to examine whether what is written in the redtop press regarding prisoners
and their conditions reflects our views and by extension influences penal policy in this country.
However, before I do this I should tell you a little of what I do.
In 2007 the Prisons Act was enacted. It provided, inter alia, for the appointment of an
Inspector of Prisons who would be independent in the performance of his or her functions. I
was the first such appointment.
On taking up this position I found that we had no standards against which to benchmark
prisons. In July 2009, I published Standards for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland. These standards
were informed not only by our international obligations enshrined in the many treaties and
instruments that we as a country are party to, our Constitution, our laws and the jurisprudence
of our Courts but also by relevant decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, relevant
Reports of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment and non binding instruments emanating from the United
Nations and the Council of Europe. I also took account of the standards that apply in and the
jurisprudence of other jurisdictions I was mindful of the guidance from publications of such
reputable bodies as the United Nations and the Council of Europe.

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