HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, today publishes the 4th annual report of the National Preventive Mechanism – the independent reporting of conditions in which those detained in custody are held
In his Introduction Nick Hardwick says:
Around the world, individuals deprived of their liberty are particularly vulnerable to ill- treatment – whether deliberately or resulting from neglect. Prisoners and other detainees rely on staff for their safety and most basic necessities, all too often they are held hidden from independent view and the characteristics that led to their detention may undermine their credibility if they complain.
The insight of those who drafted the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), and to which the UK became a signatory in 2003, was that a remedy against such ill-treatment was the regular visits of an independent body who could report on what they found and make recommendations for improvement.
OPCAT requires each state party to establish a mechanism to undertake such visits, known as the National Preventive Mechanism or NPM.
The UK has a particularly complex NPM structure made up of 18 different bodies that reflect the different political, legal and administrative systems in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and an existing long-established network of organisations covering a wide range of different types of detention. The UK NPM is coordinated by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (England and Wales).
All the places of detention within the NPM’s remit were under financial pressure during the year, as were the NPM members themselves, and most faced a rapidly changing policy environment. How NPM members responded to these challenges and what they found during their inspections and visits are detailed in their individual annual reports.
The challenge for the NPM overall, with its very limited central coordination resource, was to ensure its work as a whole was consistent and comprehensive. Consistency was addressed through the regular sharing of information and practice at business meetings attended by all members and the continuing development of a small steering group to take forward work between the main business meetings.
A separate sub-group on children was established to coordinate work and share best practice.
Six key themes emerged, common to many forms of detention, where consistent basic principles should apply and which should be high on the list of priorities for all NPM members:
• the importance of learning, sharing and applying lessons from deaths in all sorts of custody as part of a preventive mandate
• identifying and applying common principles for monitoring the use and governance of restraint
• applying international human rights standards and norms on solitary confinement to policy and practice, looking specifically at how segregation, separation and seclusion in places of detention may undermine these standards
• the recognition and monitoring of ‘de facto’ detention as relevant to the OPCAT mandate in the UK, and calling for effective processes to be in place to prevent abuse where it occurs
• protecting prisoners and detainees from reprisals or sanctions for cooperating with any part of the NPM
• ensuring that the treatment of children adheres to the Convention on the Rights of the Child wherever they are held. In each of these areas we will look to establish common understanding, joint working where appropriate and comment on policy and proposed legislation in accordance with OPCAT Article 19 (c).
The need to ensure the NPM’s work is comprehensive, and that all places of detention receive regular preventive visits, was underlined by the revelation of horrific abuse at the Winterbourne View Hospital for young adults with learning difficulties in 2011 and 2012 and the failure of the preventive mechanisms in place at that time. The start of court custody inspections and the second year of overseas escorts monitoring revealed some embedded bad practice that had become established in the previous absence of systematic inspection and monitoring.
In 2013–14 we will work to identify and address any other type of detention that is not subject to independent statutory visiting. In April 2014 the NPM will mark the five year anniversary of its designation in the UK. We look forward to working with all NPM members and others concerned with the prevention of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of those in detention, to reflect on the progress that has been made in this initial period and consult on our future priorities.
The report is available at http://bit.ly/1gU8Ztg