Northern Ireland news

Gay prisoner launches legal challenge over sex and condom ban at Maghaberry

Gay prisoner launches legal challenge over sex and condom ban at Maghaberry
Connla Young

A GAY prisoner in Maghaberry has launched a legal challenge over a ban on sexual contact between inmates and a refusal to allow condoms and other sex aids into the all male prison.

The judicial review, believed to be the first of its kind, claims that a refusal by prison chiefs to allow the items into the jail are in breach of the human rights act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The inmate, who has been granted anonymity, is challenging a failure by the Northern Ireland Prison Service to permit "effective access to preventative measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections".

Among the items requested are condoms, lubricants, dental dams, and disinfectant tablets together with information about sexually transmitted and blood borne infections.

The prisoner's solicitor Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, said in legal documents that such items are frequently made available in prisons in England and Wales.

The court action also challenges what is described as the "unwritten and/or unpublished position of the NIPS that prisoners are not permitted to engage in consensual sexual activity".

Lawyers maintain that the ban on sexual activity in the prison is unlawful "and it has no basis in any published legislation, rule or policy".

Legal papers linked to the case reveal that the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, which oversees the running of medical services at Maghaberry, supports the provision of the items requested.

In response to a letter from Mr Booth a senior official said the trust "is in favour of the provision of the items detailed in your letter".

She said that the trust had made "numerous representations to this effect" adding that to date the "trust has been advised by the Northern Ireland Prison Service that these items cannot be distributed within the prison".

It has also emerged that when the prisoner at the centre of the challenge complained about a lack of access to condoms last year he was told they were "listed as a prohibited article".

In a written response he was also advised that "sexual relations could potentially lead to a charge under rule 38", which deals with "offences against prison discipline".

While prison rule 38 does not reference consensual sexual activity a section does state that a prisoner shall be guilty of an offence against discipline if he "commits an indecent and obscene act".

The inmate later complained about the response, describing it as "wholly offensive and a reflection out outdated attitudes".

Mr Booth last night said: "Our client is rightfully pursuing an application for a judicial review following a refusal by the Prison Service to provide him with condoms in order to have safe sex while in prison."

"We are long past the days that this should be a taboo subject when in reality this is a sexual health matter.

"The reality is a section of prisoners are having sex in prison with each other and prisoners should have the option of having sex in a safe way."

A spokeswoman for the Prison Service said: "It would be inappropriate to comment further whilst legal proceedings are ongoing."

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