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Question

170. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when she will introduce legislation to update the coroner system and to ensure mechanisms of investigation into deaths in prison custody are compliant with Ireland's international human rights obligations. [12698/16]

Answer

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): In relation to the investigation of deaths in prison custody, since 1 January, 2012, the death of any prisoner in custody or on temporary release is the subject of an independent investigation by the Inspector of Prisons. The Deputy will be aware that the Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory independent office established under the Prisons Act, 2007. All death in custody reports are published on my Department’s website.
The Inspector’s investigations and reports are part of a three pronged process – the other aspects being the investigations by An Garda Síochána and the investigations and Inquests conducted by the Coroners. I am satisfied that this process ensures that Ireland is in compliance with its national and international obligations regarding deaths in prison custody, and meets the strict criteria laid down by the European Court of Human Rights when interpreting the procedural requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In addition, the circumstances of each death in custody are subject to an internal review process by the suicide prevention group for the prison institution concerned. This group is chaired by the respective prison Governors, and includes representatives from all the services across the prison estate, including medical, psychology, chaplaincy, probation, education, and prison staff. The internal review fully covers the background and circumstances of each death in custody, and its objective is to identify any possible measures which may be implemented which can contribute to a reduced risk of deaths in custody in future.
The Internal Review Reports are considered by the National Suicide and Harm Prevention Steering Group, which is chaired by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service. The Steering Group then ensures that the relevant findings of those reports are disseminated throughout the prison system.
In relation to the coroner system, the Coroners Bill 2007 is already under review in my Department at my request, as elements of that Bill have become outdated. However, changes have already been introduced in relation to an inquest, where the person has died in prison custody or immediately after being in prison custody. Part 6 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013, which amended the Coroners Act 1962 and the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, provides for legal aid to be available to the deceased's next of kin so that they can be legally represented at the coroner's inquest where the person has died in, or immediately after being in, State custody.
This responds to the importance under the European Convention on Human Rights of ensuring that the next of kin can effectively participate and engage in the inquest process in such cases. Question No. 171 answered with Question No. 127.