Prisoner on hunger strike refusing medication, court told

Prisoner On Hunger Strike Refusing Medication, Court Told
The man is declining to take his medication and food because of grievances he has with certain state bodies who, he says, have ignored him. Photo: PA Images
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High Court reporters

The High Court has ruled that a decision by a prisoner to go on hunger strike and cease taking medication for a chronic condition is lawful and valid, and that the inmate is fully aware of the consequences of his action.

The ruling was made by Mr Justice Paul Burns on Wednesday evening, who appealed to the male prisoner to end his hunger strike.


The man is declining to take his medication and food because of grievances he has with certain State bodies who, he says, have ignored him.

Neither the prisoner nor the prison in which he is incarcerated can be identified by the media by order of the court.

In proceedings that were brought by the governor of the prison where the man is being held, Mr Justice Burns said he was prepared to grant a variety of declarations, including one that the governor's decision not to force-feed the male prisoner against his wishes is lawful.

The governor had sought the orders in an attempt to bring legal clarity to the situation in accordance with the law after the prisoner, who is a diabetic, stopped taking his insulin, other medication, and food.


The prisoner did not want to be revived or resuscitated if his hunger strike results in him becoming incapacitated, the court also heard.

The man commenced his hunger and medication strike on December 30th but has continued to take fluids, the court heard.

Legal clarity

The prisoner is currently serving a lengthy custodial sentence handed down to him by a criminal court after he admitted several serious offences and has other similar charges pending against him.

Opening the case, Tony McGillicuddy SC with Sean Aherne BL for the governor, told the court that the application before the court was "a difficult" and "sombre" one, where his client sought legal "clarity" in response to the prisoner's decision.


It was the prison governor's position that the man had capacity to go on hunger strike, and such a choice and the man's rights needed to be respected.

Arising out of the man's decision, the prison governor was seeking various declarations, which counsel said included declarations that the man had the capacity to refuse food, medication and medical assistance should the need arise.

The governor also sought declarations that the man's decisions should remain operative even if he becomes incapacitated, that he only receive medication including painkillers and end of life treatment should the need arise, and that the governor's decision not to force-feed the prisoner is lawful.

The declarations, counsel said, are in accordance with decisions made by other courts in similar situations involving prisoners on hunger strikes.


Giving evidence via video-link from prison, the prisoner said he has taken this course of action because he claims he has not been afforded a fair hearing by various bodies of the State, including gardaí and the criminal justice system.

He was concerned about the fairness of his forthcoming trial, and the treatment and conditions he and other prisoners receive.

He also voiced his frustration at being unable to attend or fully participate in judicial review proceedings he had brought in relation to pending criminal proceedings.

He also claimed he had written to a significant number of politicians and ministers, but he did not receive any substantial replies.



The man was represented by Michael Ó Higgins SC, with Richard Wixted BL instructed by solicitor Mathew Byrne, and did not oppose any of the declarations being sought by the governor.

The prisoner was not in court but gave evidence via video-link from the prison.

He told the court that he was fully aware of the consequences of his actions to refuse food and his medication.

He also voiced his concerns that in the event that he becomes gravely ill, he might be given food or medication in a hospital against his wishes.

The court also heard evidence from two medical experts who had interviewed the prisoner.

Both said he had the capacity to make the decision taken and was aware of the consequences of his actions. The two doctors agreed that the man was not suffering from any mental illness, nor was he deemed suicidal.

His decision was based on his grievances with the criminal justice system and a sense of being ignored, the medical experts further agreed.

After considering the evidence and having heard from the prisoner, Mr Justice Burns gave an outline of his decision.

The judge said he was satisfied that the declarations sought by the governor should be granted. The medical evidence, the court added, "all went one way".

The man, the judge said, had full capacity to make the decisions he has taken and "fully understands the consequences of his actions".

To do anything contrary to those expressed wishes, including force-feeding him, would amount to breaches of the man's constitutional rights, including his right to bodily integrity, the judge added.

The judge said that now the man had been given an opportunity to air his grievances and be fully heard by a court of law, he asked the prisoner to reconsider his decision to forego food and medication.

The judge, who said he would give a full written decision on the issue later this month, also told the man that any issues regarding the fairness of his forthcoming criminal trial was a matter for the judge hearing that case.

The judge, who praised both legal teams for their assistance, gave the sides liberty to apply to the courts should the need arise.

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