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Northern Ireland Prison Service pays out £127,000 to battle claims from inmates

By Rebecca Black

The Prison Service has spent more than £127,000 defending itself against inmates’ judicial reviews in the last year, it can be revealed.

There were 48 such actions taken by prisoners against the Prison Service last year — an average of one each week.

One of the cases was taken by Gerard Flannigan, a 35-year-old prisoner being held in the separated wing for republican inmates at HMP Maghaberry, claiming the Prison Service’s policy of recording and retaining forced strip searches breached human rights.

Another one was taken by convicted killer Louis Maguire for allegedly suspending him from educational courses in prison.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie uncovered the total figures for last year by asking an Assembly Question (AQ).

He has called on the Department of Justice to introduce processes to cut the number.

Mr Beattie asked Justice Minister Claire Sugden to outline the cost of the judicial reviews to her department.

She responded by saying the cost to date of the 48 judicial reviews between December 1, 2015 and November 30, 2016 is £127,190.

However, she added the true final cost is likely to be even higher.

“A number of cases remain ongoing and invoices in relation to others have still to be received,” she said in response to the AQ.

“It is not possible to provide a projected cost for these due to the individual circumstances of each case.”

Mr Beattie said he discovered through an earlier AQ that of the 48 cases, 29 came from Maghaberry, Co Antrim, 12 came from Magilligan, Co Londonderry and seven from Hydebank Wood, where young offenders and women are held.

He has queried why the number is so high.

“People will be shocked to learn that last year prison inmates brought no fewer than 48 judicial reviews against the Northern Ireland Prison Service, at a cost to date of £127,190,” he said.

“I am calling on the Justice Department to ensure processes are in place to reduce the number of claims against the Prison Service and in particular to weed out obviously vexatious claims at the earliest possible stage so as to protect the public purse,” said Mr Beattie.

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