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Northern Ireland Prison Service's policy of keeping recordings of forced strip searches breaches human rights law, judge rules

By Alan Erwin

Published 15/03/2016

The verdict came in a legal challenge mounted by Gerard Flannigan, who was remanded in custody at Roe House, the separated wing for republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail.
The verdict came in a legal challenge mounted by Gerard Flannigan, who was remanded in custody at Roe House, the separated wing for republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail.

Northern Ireland Prison Service's policy of recording and retaining forced strip searches breaches human rights law, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mr Justice Treacy backed claims by an inmate that filming the process and keeping footage for up to six years violates his right to privacy.

He said: "In the absence of any proper basis in domestic law the recording of the search and its retention and the policy under which it was carried out are not in accordance with law."

The verdict came in a legal challenge mounted by Gerard Flannigan, who was remanded in custody at Roe House, the separated wing for republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail.

In October 2014 he was subjected to a full search by force after refusing to give his consent. 

The court heard a video camera was used to record the events.

Mr Flannigan's legal action against the Prison Service was focused solely on the filming of a so-called strip search.

No footage is allowed to be taken of intimate body parts during a process which must be carried out by an officer of the same sex, and only when the prisoner will not co-operate.

A governor at the jail was said to have watched the tape and stated that it only consists of an introduction and an end section showing the prisoner finishing off dressing again.

The critical section of the footage is either no longer available or did not record, the court was told.

Counsel for Mr Flannigan claimed he was subjected to degrading treatment that breached his Article 8 privacy entitlements under the European Convention on Human Rights.

It was also alleged that the way filming is carried out unlawfully breached prison rules.

Lawyers representing the Prison Service insisted that in the footage Mr Flannigan showed no signs of either distress or having been subjected to any inappropriate interference.

It was also emphasised that safeguards are in place during the process.

Delivering judgment in the judicial review challenge today, Mr Justice Treacy held that the removal of clothes had been justified.

But dealing with the filming of the process, he said: "The loss of control over the use of the search subject's nakedness occurs at the time where there is an intention to record the search and all parties believe that the search is being recorded. 

"This is an interference with the search subject's Article 8 rights in itself. 

"The creation and retention of the record is a further and ongoing interference."

On that basis he allowed Mr Flannigan's application for judicial review.

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