High Court grants sentenced prisoner permission to challenge Minister for Justice’s refusal of enhanced remission by way of Judicial Review

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan

Michael Halleron, of Madden & Finucane, who represents Mr Burns said:

“Having regard to the specific Prison Rules, it is clear that the Minister must consider, by reference to the authorised structure activities undertaken, the prisoner’s: (i) reduced likelihood of re-offending and (ii) increased ability to better integrate with the community.

“The Minister failed to consider this two staged process in his decision to refuse our client enhanced remission.

“The Minister’s decision in this particular case has simply stated a criterion provided for in legislation. There is no proper and adequate reasons given to refuse the enhanced remission. This could only be described as a “box ticking” administrative function, as opposed to an executive decision.

“One must appreciate that prisoners seeking to have their sentence reduced by one third, is a matter of very substantial significance not only for the prisoner but for society as a whole. It must be done correctly and in accordance with law”

A man serving a four-year prison sentence after being convicted of having explosives in an adapted beer keg has challenged the refusal of the Minister for Justice to grant him enhanced remission.

The action has been brought by William Burns, who is currently detained at Loughan House Open Centre, in Co. Cavan.

In 2016 Burns, from Belfast was convicted and given a seven-year prison term, with the final three years suspended, by the Special Criminal Court.

Burns pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of the explosive substances PETN and RDX, an adapted 50-litre beer keg, 50 kg of ammonium nitrate homemade explosive, an improvised detonation cord, an improvised steel booster tube and an improvised time and power unit at Kilcurry Church, Co Louth on May 25, 2014.

Burns was arrested by members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) shortly after the device was moved to his car from another vehicle.

After his conviction Burns, who claimed he got involved in the operation due to a change in his family circumstances, undertook not to associate with anyone involved in dissident Republican activities.

Since entering custody Burns, who is aged in his early 40s, has engaged constructively in structured activities within the prison.

He applied for enhanced remission of one-third off his sentence for good behaviour, compared to the normal one-quarter remission usually given to prisoners.

However, last April the Minister refused the application on the grounds of the nature and gravity of the offence committed by Burns.

While accepting that Burns had engaged in structured activity in prison, the Minister was not satisfied Burn’s engagement had fully addressed his offending behaviour. Burns claims the Minister’s refusal to grant enhanced remission is flawed.

His counsel Conan Fegan BL said his client would be already out of prison if he had been granted enhanced one-third remission. Otherwise, he will be released in June, the court heard.

Counsel said the Minister’s decision is flawed because of a failure to consider whether his client was better able to reintegrate into the community.

There was also a failure by the Minister to take into account certain relevant considerations, and there was a failure by the Minister to give any proper reasons for the refusal.

He now seeks an order quashing the Minister’s refusal to grant him enhanced remission. He further seeks declarations the Minister has acted in breach of his constitutional rights and rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Permission to bring the challenge against the Minister was granted on an ex parte basis by Mr Justice Seamus Noonan today.

The matter will come back before the court later this week.

Irish Examiner