Clare Champion journalist Carol Byrne has again been acknowledged for her outstanding work in the field of legal reportage and features.
At the annual Justice Media Awards event, held in Dublin on Thursday (June 22), Carol received her fifth Justice Media accolade for her story on how law researchers at the University of Limerick worked with the late Judge Michael Reilly, Ireland’s first inspector of prisons, on a report recommending the creation of a database to record deaths in Irish prisons.
The judging panel awarded a certificate of merit in the regional print category to the Ennis resident for her article entitled ‘Breaking new ground in prison law: the late Judge Michael Reilly’.
The graduates’ work with the late Judge Michael Reilly, was compiled in a report which was presented to Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald last year.
The Justice Media Awards recognise outstanding print and broadcast journalism that contributes to the public’s understanding of law and justice, the legal system, or specific legal issues.
“Carol has, over the years, certainly met this criteria,” commented Clare Champion editor Austin Hobbs. “She has a comprehensive understanding of the law and the legal system, which is vital when it comes to presenting stories for publication. Outside of her court reporting, Carol is a versatile journalist, who covers general news and human interest features”.
The judging panel outlined that Carol’s report, which was written shortly before Judge Reilly’s sad passing late last year, took a look at the work and influence of the late Judge Michael Reilly; in particular, the proposal developed by a group of law students at University of Limerick to create a database recording all prisoner deaths – an area of concern to Judge Reilly in his role as Inspector of Prisons.
“This well-researched piece combines a strong focus on the local, with rich and welcome background on Judge Reilly’s difficult work; a humane take on the complex topic of prisoner rights,” they noted.
Last October, Carol wrote how a proposal to introduce a database that would record details of those who have died in Irish prisons had resulted from research conducted by UL law students. The research team included Cratloe woman Róisín Cahill.
At an event hosted by the School of Law in UL, Judge Reilly released the report, which highlighted the importance of having a system to record and learn from deaths that occur in prisons.
He said Ireland is only now getting to grips with prison law, highlighting that it is only since January 2008, when the Prisons Act 2007 was enacted, that his independent judicial appointment was made to oversee prisons.
Judge Reilly recalled a number of times when he personally has met, grieved and shed tears with the bereaved families of prisoners who have died in the Irish prison system.
“The absence of reliable, comprehensive information on deaths in custody within this jurisdiction has long struck me as lamentable,” he said.
Róisín Cahill recounted, “When we were in our final year, there were a number of different projects that we could apply to be involved with. This one was pitched and I thought it was an interesting opportunity to collaborate on the criminal justice sector that could effect policy decisions into the future. First we looked at different common law jurisdictions and in recording deaths in prisons.
“We looked at the model operated in Australia; a lot of our template that we proposed was quite heavily based on the Australian database.
Having a database, she explained, “will allow us to identify risk factors and make comparisons of risk factors with other international norms. The goal will always be to reduce the number of prisoners dying in custody. It would also encourage evidence-based policy, which would also provide transparency within the prison system as regards deaths in prison custody.”
The judge reflected on the frequent use of derogatory slang in reference to prisoners in the media, particularly across “the red top” titles, as he put it. He referenced terms like ‘savage’, ‘scumbag’ and ‘vermin’, which he had pulled from headlines and asked those present to ponder on the idea of whose interest these terms served, other than selling newspapers.
He stated the prisoners involved had their liberty withheld from them for the crimes they committed and such headlines impacted more people than the prisoners themselves, causing a ripple effect of more pain and suffering.
Judge Reilly also commented on a headline in which a prisoner who had died in custody was referred to as ‘vermin’, reflecting on the time he spent with the man’s mother in the wake of his death.