Strip-searching of women prisoners at Hydebank prison in County Antrim was criticised yesterday by a High Court judge as humiliating, disproportionate and unnecessary.
The practice is now to be reviewed by the North’s Prison Service.
Justice Girvan made his comments in a judgment resulting from a judicial review by Karen Carson, a prisoner at Hydebank.
The judge said that “the court can readily accept” the contention that strip-searching is “humiliating”.
Justice Girvan said that having failed to have proper and explicit regard to the relevant convention rights, the current policy of strip-searching at Hydebank cannot be demonstrated to be “necessary and proportionate”.
Welcoming the judgment as important, the North’s Human Rights Commission expressed “grave concern” about the continuing conditions for women prisoners in Hydebank.
“We welcome the court’s findings on the oppressive and humiliating strip-searching regime operated at Hydebank Wood,” Linda Moore said on behalf of the Commission.
“Our previous work in this field has revealed disturbing evidence of inadequate conditions for women in this prison.
“By assisting Karen Carson with this case we hope that conditions for women prisoners can be improved to meet international standards and that the frequent practice of strip-searching will now stop,” Ms Moore said.
Sinn Féin’s human rights spokesperson Caitriona Ruane - who spent five hours assessing the conditions for prisoners inside Hydebank earlier this month - last night welcomed the judgment. She also demanded action from the prison service.
“The strip-searching of female prisoners is a barbaric and degrading practice,” Ms Ruane said.
“The fact that today’s announcement by the prison service only came after court proceedings by a female prisoner indicates that any reform or change will only be delivered reluctantly by the prison authorities.
“In addition to the issue of strip-searching Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for the establishment of a purpose-built female facility with its own governor and administration. The current facilities at Hydebank where female prisoners share a site with young male offenders is not acceptable.”