S.F. v Director of Oberstown Childrens Detention Centre

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMs. Justice Ni Raifeartaigh
Judgment Date06 November 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] IEHC 829
CourtHigh Court
Docket Number[2016 Nos. 712, 721, 711 & 714 JR],[2016 No. 712 J.R.] [2016 No. 711 J.R.] {2016 No. 714 J.R.}
Date06 November 2017
BETWEEN
S.F. (A MINOR SUING THROUGH HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND, M.B.C.)
APPLICANT
AND
DIRECTOR OF OBERSTOWN CHILDREN DETENTION CENTRE, COMMISSIONER OF AN GARDA SÍOCHÁNA, MINISTER FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH AFFAIRS, MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY, IRELAND

AND

ATTORNEY GENERAL
RESPONDENTS
BETWEEN
L.C. (A MINOR SUING THROUGH HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND)
APPLICANT
AND
THE DIRECTOR OF OBERSTOWN

AND

THE MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY
RESPONDENT
BETWEEN
T. G. (A MINOR SUING THROUGH HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND J. G.)
APPLICANT
AND
THE DIRECTOR OF OBERSTOWN CHILDREN DETENTION CENTRE, COMMISSIONER OF AN GARDA SÍOCHÁNA, MINISTER FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH AFFAIRS, MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY, IRELAND

AND

ATTORNEY GENERAL
RESPONDENT
BETWEEN
P. M.C.C. (A MINOR) AT THE SUIT OF HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND TINE MCCABE
APPLICANT
AND
THE DIRECTOR OF OBERSTOWN CHILDREN DETENTION CAMPUS

AND

THE MINISTER FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG AFFAIRS
RESPONDENT

[2017] IEHC 829

Ní Raifeartaigh J.

[2016 No. 712 J.R.]

[2016 No. 721 J.R.]

[2016 No. 711 J.R.]

{2016 No. 714 J.R.}

THE HIGH COURT

JUDICIAL REVIEW

Constitution – Crime & Sentencing – Detention – Constitutional rights – Solitary confinement – Breach of rights – Exemplary damages – European Convention on Human Right (ECHR) – Compensatory damages – Rights of non-adult detainees

Facts: The applicants sought a number of declarations against the respondents relating to the constitutional rights of the applicants as young persons in a detention centre. The issues arose out of the solitary confinement or separation of four applicants/young persons in a detention centre for a period of approximately three weeks after their involvement in a serious disturbance at a particular place. The first and second applicants also sought a stay on the regime of separation to which they were subject at the time of the commencement of proceedings; however, that aspect of matters had become moot. The applicants also sought a declaration that the respondents breached the applicant's rights under art 3 of the ECHR and the constitutional rights of bodily integrity and dignity. The applicants further sought a declaration that the imposition of the solitary confinement was unlawful. The applicants contended that the refusal to allow their family members to visit them was in breach of art. 8 of the ECHR.

Ms. Justice Ni Raifeartaigh granted some of the declarations sought by the applicants. The Court noted that the constitutional rights of the applicants were breached, as they were deprived from contacting their families and daily exercise during the period of separation. The Court held that the applicants did not face any psychological harm during the time of separation as there was no evidence to substantiate the same. The Court granted the declaration to the effect that the constitutional rights of the applicants were breached as there were no procedural safeguards relating to the imposition of the separation and associated deprivations and failure to provide opportunity to make representations. The Court also held that there was no basis for awarding exemplary damages, as there was no malicious or wilful deprivation of the applicants' rights by the respondents. The Court noted that in relation to compensatory damages, there were limited breaches of constitutional rights of the applicants. The Court followed the approach of Costello J. in the case of Kearney v. Minister for Justice [1986] IR 116 and thus, awarded nominal damages to the applicants in respect of the breaches of the constitutional rights.

JUDGMENT of Ms. Justice Ni Raifeartaigh delivered on the 6th day of November 2017
Introduction
1

This case is unusual because it raises issues relating to the constitutional rights of young persons in a detention school. The courts frequently deal with issues relating to the rights of adult prisoners in Irish prisons, but much rarer are the cases raising issues concerning the rights of non-adult detainees. The particular issues in this case arise out of the solitary confinement or separation of four young persons for a period of approximately three weeks after their involvement in a serious disturbance at Oberstown campus on the 29th August, 2016.

2

In cases involving the rights of prisoners or detainees, whether adult or minor, the Court must always tread a careful path between two important imperatives; on the one hand, the duty of the Court to uphold the Constitution and to protect the rights there enshrined, without fear or favour or concern as to the popularity of the cause or person invoking the right; on the other, the duty of the Court not to overstep its role in the careful balance struck by the Constitution between the role of the courts and that of the Executive. In its attempt to find the correct route through these competing considerations, the Court, while it has the assistance of many authorities concerning adult prisoners, but unfortunately has little jurisprudential guidance with regard to the constitutional parameters of what measures are permitted to the Executive in the face of highly challenging behaviour from young persons in a detention setting. Young persons in detention, particularly those around the 16 and 17-year old mark, present unusual challenges; developmentally and psychologically, they are not fully mature, and this is undoubtedly the reason for the special recognition of their non-adult status by the law. But physically they may be as large and strong as adults, leading to risks of a physical kind often associated with adults rather than children. For example, one of the applicants in this case was described in contemporaneous records as 6'2' in height and 12 stone in weight. The Director of a detention school faces unusual challenges in dealing with the young people in his care, who may be both vulnerable and dangerous at the same time.

3

The overall context to this case is as follows. On the 29th August, 2016, there was a serious disturbance at the campus, involving approximately 8 young persons, including the four applicants, who took control of a unit within the campus, gained access to the roof and caused considerable damage. Considerable numbers of An Garda Síochána and the Fire Services attended the incident which lasted some 8 hours before negotiations resulted in the young persons coming down from the roof. Following the incident, the four applicants were placed on what the respondent describes as 'separation' for a period of time. This involved their being separated from each other and their peers, and placed in locked bedrooms for a number of weeks. At the outset of this separated detention, they were deprived of many of the normal features of detention at Oberstown, such as access to running water, normal bedding, communication with their families, access to any form of entertainment, access to exercise and so on. As time went on, some of these deprivations were removed or ameliorated, as will be discussed in detail below.

4

It is important to record that a criminal investigation was launched by An Garda Síochána into the events of the 29th August, 2016, but that this criminal investigation has no connection whatsoever to the present proceedings. In the present proceedings, the applicants seek certain reliefs on the basis that, during the relevant period of detention, their constitutional rights, in particular their rights to bodily integrity and dignity, were violated by reason of the measures taken during the period of separation, including the separation itself. The reliefs sought include claims for declarations of breach of constitutional right and damages for the said breaches. Claims relating to rights under the European Convention on Human Rights were also advanced.

5

It is also important to note that it was part of the respondent's defence to suggest that the measures imposed upon the applicants were imposed as a form of discipline or punishment in relation to the incident on the 29th August, 2016. Rather, the respondent's case was that all the measures taken were temporarily necessary to ensure the safety and security of the detention school, and that the constitutional test of proportionality was adhered to.

The Reliefs Sought on behalf of the applicants
6

The reliefs sought by S.F. and T.G., who were represented by the same legal team, were in identical terms. They sought a number of declarations and damages. They also sought a stay on the regime of separation to which they were subject at the time of the commencement of proceedings, but that aspect of matters has become moot. The declarations sought were as follows:

(i) A declaration that the respondents had breached the applicant's rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

(ii) A declaration that the respondents had breached the applicant's constitutional rights to dignity and bodily integrity;

(iii) A declaration that the imposition of solitary confinement on the applicant was unlawful;

(iv) A declaration that the refusal of the respondents to allow the applicant's family to visit him was a violation of his right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

(v) A declaration that the respondents had violated the applicant's rights pursuant to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

(vi) A declaration that the respondents had violated the applicant's right to fair procedures and natural justice.

7

The applicant P.McC. sought a number of declarations as well as damages. The declarations sought included:

(i) A declaration that the respondents had breached his constitutional rights to dignity and bodily integrity;

(ii) A declaration the respondents had breached his rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

(iii) A declaration that the respondents had breached his constitutional right to fair procedures;

(iv) A declaration that the...

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  • Paget v The Governor of the Midlands Prison
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    • July 9, 2019
    ...28 Reliance is also placed on dicta of Ní Raifeartaigh J. in S.F. v. the Director of Oberstown Childrens” Detention Centre & Ors [2017] IEHC 829, approving dicta of Donnelly J. in Attorney General v. Damache [2015] IEHC 339, that:- ‘The decision to impose solitary confinement must be based ......
  • M.G. v The Director of Oberstown Children Detention Centre
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    ...safeguards. The applicant placed much emphasis in this regard on the judgment in S.F. v Director of Oberstown Children Detention Centre [2017] IEHC 829. A related argument was made to the effect that the disparity of treatment between adult prisoners and child detainees contravenes the cons......
  • P McD v The Governor of the X Prison
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    ...where negligence had been considered ( Creighton v. Ireland [2010] IESC 50); or constitutional rights arose, S.F. & Ors. v. Director of Oberstown Children's Detention Centre, Ní Raifeartaigh, [2017] IEHC 829, and the High Court judgment Simpson v. Governor of Mountjoy Prison [2017] IEHC ......
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    • November 1, 2018
    ...not defined in statute or in the Prison Rules, and as N� Raifeartaigh J. said in S.F. v. Director of Oberstown Children Detention Centre [2017] IEHC 829, [2018] 1 ILRM 459, at para. 11, the phrase comes with ‘pejorative associations derived from its use historically and in other contexts.......
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