The Constitution of Ireland gives the State its power
The State gets its power from the people of Ireland through the Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann).
The Constitution sets out some of the rights of people who live in Ireland.
The Courts decide what Constitutional rights mean in practice. All laws must respect the principles in the Constitution.
Rights under the European Convention on Human Rights
We also have rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The law must also follow the ECHR and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.
Everyone who works for the State (‘State agents’), including Prison Officers, must act in line with the Constitution and the ECHR.
Prison Service must act in line with the law
The Irish Prison Service must act in line with the law and the judgments made in court. You should tell the Governor or any staff member if you feel:
- the prison authorities have treated you in a way that is against the law
- your rights have not been respected.
Alternatively, as soon as possible, you should complain using the complaints process. You may also contact a solicitor.
Main source of prisoners’ rights
The main source of prisoners’ rights in Ireland are the Prison Rules, 2007–2020.
However, it is also important to pay attention to changes in Irish law that apply to prisoners. For example, the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty is a legal duty introduced in 2014. It states that public bodies like the Irish Prison Service should:
- promote equality
- prevent discrimination
- protect the human rights of people in their custody
- protect their staff.
Professional healthcare staff must also follow the professional standards of their particular professional bodies. For example, doctors must follow the professional standards of the Irish Medical Council.
International treaties for treatment of prisoners
Ireland has agreed to follow the terms of four international treaties (agreements) which lay out standards for treating prisoners. These are:
- the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
- the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (ECPT) from the Council of Europe
- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- the United Nations Convention against Torture (UN CAT).
EU Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
This Charter puts all the rights of all EU citizens into one legally binding document.
Other relevant United Nations (UN) agreements include:
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Guidance on minimum standards for prisons
The following rules are not the law, but they are also important because they give important guidance on minimum standards for prisons.
- the Council of Europe’s European Prison Rules
- the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (sometimes known as the “Nelson Mandela Rules”)
- the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the “Bangkok Rules”).
Similarly, there are recommendations from the Council of Europe related to prison specific issues.
More organisations that can help youHere is a link to a list of organisations that may be able to help you.
Answers to some questions you may have
Do I lose my rights when I am in prison?
Everyone has certain basic human rights. You should have these rights protected as much as anyone else. The basic rights protected by the Irish Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights include the following:
Everyone has the right to life.
Free from torture
Everyone has the right to be free from:
- inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
Education, family life and religion
Everyone has the right to:
- family life
- religious freedom.
If you are convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term in prison, the loss of your freedom is the punishment. The way you’re treated or the conditions in prison should not be used as additional punishment.