Ryan v Governor of Midlands Prison: Habeas corpus not appropriate if there is a prima facie valid order for detention

Prisoner+in+jail+cell+prison1Here, the Court followed precedent that habeas corpus is not an appropriate action to challenge a detention where there is a prima facie valid order for detention. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the applicant should either appeal the validity of the order or seek judicial review of the impugned decision.


In July 2010, the Circuit Criminal Court sentenced Ryan to two concurrent sentences of six years imprisonment for the illegal possession of firearms. His release date under one quarter remission would be November 2014. He applied to the the Minister for Justice for one third remission under rule 59(2) of the Prison Rules 2007. His release date under that rule would be in May 2014.

59(2): The Minister may grant greater remission of sentence in excess of one quarter, but not exceeding one third thereof where a prisoner has shown further good conduct by engaging in structured activity and the Minister is satisfied that, as a result, the prisoner is less likely to re-offend and will be better able to integrate into the community.

The Minister refused Ryan’s application. Under Article 40 of the Constitution, Ryan made a habeas corpus application to the High Court challenging the legality of his continued detention. The Governor produced a valid order for detention. Ryan then argued that the Minister’s decision was procedurally flawed.

Here, Judge Barrett held that Ryan had established his detention was not in accordance with law and ordered his immediate release. The Governor appealed that decision to the Supreme Court on grounds that the Minister’s decision could not be challenged under an Article 40 application.

The Supreme Court followed precedent such as the statement in FX v Clinical Director of the Central Mental Hospital [2014] IESC 1:

65. In general, if there is an order of any court, which does not show an invalidity on its face, then the correct approach is to seek the remedy of an appeal and, if necessary, apply for priority. Or, if it is a court of local jurisdiction, then an application for judicial review may be the appropriate route to take. In such circumstances, where an order of the court does not show any invalidity on its face, the route of the constitutional and immediate remedy of habeas corpus is not an appropriate

The Court allowed the appeal stating that the order for detention was valid and the Minister’s decision was prima facie valid. Ryan could challenge the Minister’s decision under judicial review proceedings, but not under an Article 40 application.

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  1. 2014 Review: August | scoirl

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