High Court judge seeks further information on conditions in a Northern Ireland prison

A judge of the High Court in Dublin is seeking further information on the conditions in a Northern Ireland prison before deciding whether to extradite a Belfast man wanted there in connection with the murder of a mother-of-three.

Raymond O’Neill is facing charges of murder and arson over the death of Jennifer Dornan, 30, who was found stabbed to death in her burning house in west Belfast in August 2015.

The 38-year-old, with a previous address in Belfast, was arrested by gardai in Dublin on 3 February 2016 on foot of a European Arrest Warrant issued by Northern Ireland authorities.

Mr O’Neill is also sought for prosecution for another unrelated matter.

Delivering her judgment today, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said that the respondent raised three identical objections in respect of both European Arrest Warrants.

The first point concerned the impact of Brexit. She said this point had been rejected already in a previous case but was subject to an appeal pending before the Supreme Court. The Court said because of this it will not finalise the determination on the Brexit point at this juncture.

The second point of objection concerned an insufficient linkage of Mr O’Neill to the offences in the warrants. The judge rejected this submission and said that both European Arrest warrants contained “sufficient detail”.

The third point of objection was that there was a “real risk” that Mr O’Neill would be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in Maghaberry prison if he was surrendered. Mr O’Neill claimed that the fact that he is wanted for trial, that a significant custodial sentence is involved if convicted at trial, that he is vulnerable due to his medical situation, and that there is an extant threat to his life all combine to make him “especially vulnerable” to a breach of his Article 3 ECHR rights.

Ms Justice Donnelly said that a 2016 Report on Maghaberry Prison showed an improving position but stated that the levels of violence “remained too high” and that a significant amount of work was still outstanding to make the prison safer.

The judge said Mr O’Neill is a “vulnerable prisoner” because of the offence with which he will be charged and, more particularly, because there are specific threats to his life. She said she was satisfied that the 2016 report established that there are “specific deficiencies” in Maghaberry prison concerning the safety of vulnerable prisoners and this gave rise to concern that there is a “real risk” that Mr O’Neill, by virtue of his vulnerabilities, would be subject to inhuman and degrading treatment.

She said the Court would seek further information from the UK authorities as to the conditions in which Mr O’Neill would be held should he be surrendered to the UK.

Furthermore, Ms Justice Donnelly said that on the proposed date for delivery of the judgment on October 20, counsel for the respondent gave the Court an updated report on the prison (“the 2017 report”).

The judge said she is not satisfied that the 2017 Report sufficiently addressed her concern about the risk of the respondent being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment because of his vulnerabilities.

Last November, the High Court heard that Mr O’Neill was in a “critical condition” in prison after taking a drugs overdose in his cell in the Midlands prison.

A resumed hearing will take place on December 12 and Mr O’Neill was remanded in custody until that date.

Alison O’Riordan, Ireland International News Agency Ltd.