Judge quashes decision to refuse prison officer's work absence as occupational injury

The officer was instructed to transport a prisoner to court in Limerick but when he went to the cell the prisoner became violent
Judge quashes decision to refuse prison officer's work absence as occupational injury

The High Court has quashed a decision of the Irish Prison Service to refuse to treat a prison officer's absence from work following an assault by a prisoner as an occupational injury.

Michael Delaney, an assistant chief officer in Limerick Prison, had not been provided with reasons for the refusal and the matter must now be reconsidered by the prison service, Ms Justice Niamh Hyland ruled.

The case arose out of an incident on August 30th, 2019, when Mr Delaney was instructed to transport a prisoner to court in Limerick but when he went to the cell the prisoner became violent, the court heard.

Mr Delaney, in attempting to restrain him, was bitten and headbutted by the prisoner. He also sustained an injury to his right shoulder and this required surgery. He was out of work until he returned in the spring of 2020.

In October 2019, he requested that the incident be treated as an occupational injury under the relevant prison service policy.

On October 31st, a decision was made to refuse his application to treat it as an occupational injury. He appealed, and the decision was upheld in December 2019.

He was told in the October decision that the prison governor had been unable to provide a recommendation under occupational injury and disease policy and the appeal decision was based on the same ground.

The effect of these decisions was that he was not entitled to be paid while on leave arising from the incident.

He was told there was no further appeal available and was invited to attend the medical officer which he did in February 2020.

Negligence

Following an exchange of correspondence between his solicitor and the prison service, he brought High Court proceedings in May 2020 claiming, among other things, he was entitled to reasons for the refusal. The case was against the prison service, the Minister for Justice and the State.

He said he was only told in April 2020 that the reason was because the governor could not be satisfied there was no negligence on his part during the cell incident.

The defendants opposed the proceedings. It was argued, among other things, Mr Delaney must have known that a reference to "inconclusive evidence" in relation to the incident meant the governor was of the view that he had been negligent and therefore was refusing to make a recommendation.

Ms Justice Hyland, in quashing the decision, said that argument appeared quite unsustainable.

She said there was a failure by the prison service to provide reasons in both the original and appeal decision.

The prison service was obliged to ensure Mr Delaney has an opportunity to be properly heard and that he has an opportunity to put all material that he considers relevant before the decision-maker.

She said her decision is not concerned with the substance of the decision and nothing constrains the prison service in any substantive decision they may ultimately take on the application.

She was also expressing no view whether the incident was one that comes within the terms of occupational injury scheme or whether there was any negligence or contributory negligence on the part of Mr Delaney.

She remitted the matter back to the prison service for further consideration.

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