• February 6, 2010

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) have admitted that there is overcrowding at Maghaberry Prison. They were responding to the Celtic League which had raised concerns following a critical report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The Prison Service says it will not accept a recommendation on cell overcrowding in the CPT report.

The Prison Service has also responded to our concern over the involvement of doctors in disciplinary proceedings, which was also the subject of a CPT criticism which it seems the NIO also seem set to ignore.

Bizarrely, the Prison Service says the involvement of doctors in disciplinary matters is “necessary to protect it (the Prison Service) from criticism” before going on to refer to the health and well-being of the individual prisoner. If anything, this reinforces the CPT concerns and we will be forwarding a copy of the letter to them.

The General Medical Council has also been alerted to our concerns and their response can be found at:


The full content of the letter (dated 01/02/10) from the NIPS is set out below:

“Dear Mr Moffatt,

Thank you for your letter of 9 January about the Council of Europe’s Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment (CPT) report on its sixth visit to the United Kingdom in November/December 2008. The Minister of State, Paul Goggins, has asked that I reply on his behalf.

In your letter you refer to the recommendation at Paragraph 160 of the report that the 7m2 cells at Maghaberry Prison should never be occupied by more than one prisoner and that toilet facilities in every cell be at least partially partitioned. Operational requirements necessitate that managed crowding of inmates in Maghaberry continues where the actual numbers of inmates exceeds the individual number of physical single cell spaces. For these reasons the NIPS does not accept this recommendation.

Current standard UK cells typically have a floor area of 6.8m2 (Prison Design Briefing System 1994 Rev 3). Improvements to cell design within the new accommodation (Braid House) provide a dedicated enclosed toilet cubicle (an additional 1m2), creating a larger cell capable of housing two people.

We fully acknowledge that the cells at Maghaberry are not designed to accommodate two prisoners. New accommodation will be built with larger cells and separate toilet facilities in cell to facilitate cell sharing. NIPS are in the process of installing toilet partitions in each of the cells to screen the toilet and provide increased privacy. This screening has been completed in four houses (Bush, Roe, Foyle and Bann) and the work is scheduled to be completed in the remaining residential houses early in the next financial year.

You also asked what steps we will be taking to ensure compliance with the Committee’s concerns about the involvement of doctors in disciplinary proceedings mentioned in paragraph 178 of their report. The Committee recommended that existing legal arrangements and practice concerning the role of prison doctors in relation to disciplinary matters be reviewed.

I can advise that NIPS revised Prison Rule 41(2) with effect from 1 February 2010. The amended rule states that no award of cellular confinement shall be given effect unless an appropriate healthcare professional has certified that the prisoner is in a fit state of health to undergo it. Healthcare professional is interpreted as a person who is a member of a profession regulated by a body mentioned in section 25(3) of the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Act 2002. However, NIPS would be extremely concerned if a healthcare professional had no opportunity to comment on a prisoner’s fitness to undergo any form of cellular confinement. The need to maintain medical confidentiality can make it difficult for staff, other than Healthcare staff to identify whether a prisoner has underlying mental health or other problems which would preclude them from spending periods in a cell confined. NIPS would argue that the current arrangement is necessary to protect it from criticism, but more particularly to ensure the safety, health and well being of the individual prisoner.

Yours sincerely

Alan Craig
Acting Governor”

Related article on Celtic News at:


CPT Report here:


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