Belfast Telegraph

Judge lambasts Prison Service for 'egregious failures' in psychiatric report for inmate

By Alan Erwin

Northern Ireland's Prison Service displayed disinterest and inertia amid "appalling delay" in providing a psychiatric report for an inmate, a High Court judge has held.

Mr Justice McCloskey lambasted the authority over "egregious failures" which led to Ian Quinn being deprived of a parole hearing to determine his liberty for at least seven months.

In a scathing assessment, he described the situation as unacceptable and suggested a full apology should be offered to the prisoner and judicial figures involved.

The judge said: " Neither the Parole Commissioners nor the High Court have been treated with the elementary respect deserving of the judiciary in a constitutional arrangement which has as one of its cornerstones respect for the rule of law."

Quinn, jailed for an unspecified offence, had issued judicial review proceedings in a bid to secure the psychiatric report.

In March 2017 a panel of Parole Commissioners directed the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) to provide the assessment ahead of an oral hearing on his case scheduled for May.

But by the start of last month the report had still not been compiled.

In a newly published judgment, Mr Justice McCloskey pointed to "indulgent extensions of time" and assurances which were not honoured.

Stressing how the Commissioners' direction equated to a court order, he expressed "profound" concerns at the NIPS failure to comply.

"I accept that in the most recent phase there is some reasonable explanation and justification for the appalling delay," the judge said.

"However, one of the striking features in the factual matrix is the gaping void when nothing of substance occurred between March and September."

Referring to a Prison Service letter to the Commissioners last May, he declared: "This displays a disturbingly relaxed, casual and disinterested approach to the order, which was clearly treated as something unimportant, incorporating a merely aspirational, or indicative, deadline.

"NIPS has not so much as bothered to explain or apologise for its outright inertia during the first phase.

"Worse still, the next four months, which were punctuated by the initiation of these proceedings, were characterised by the same relaxed and indifferent inertia."

Mr Justice McCloskey continued: "The failures between March and September 2017 must be strongly deprecated. They were egregious in nature."

From that point on he identified a failure by an independent consultant to provide the report within specified time limits.

"Those guilty of the egregious failures and disrespect which have occurred in this case will doubtless wish to reflect on the propriety of proffering a swift and full apology to the Commissioners, this court and, most important, the applicant," Mr Justice McCloskey added.

In a ruling last month he granted Quinn leave to seek a judicial review and made an order for the report to be provided.

At a further hearing it was confirmed that the requested document had been delivered just before his deadline expired.

On that basis the case was resolved, with a direction for the NIPS to pay Quinn's legal costs.

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