Tilbage Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes report on the United Kingdom

The Council of Europe's Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its seventh periodic visit to the United Kingdom in September 2012, together with the response of the United Kingdom Government.*
In Scotland, the CPT examined developments there since its last visit in 2003, particularly as concerns the situation of female prisoners (Cornton Vale, Edinburgh and Greenock Prisons) and adult males on remand (Barlinnie and Kilmarnock Prisons). It also looked into the treatment and conditions of detention in several police stations and visited a medium-secure psychiatric clinic. In England, the Committee examined issues relating to persons held under immigration legislation and visited two immigration removal centres (Brook House and Colnbrook).


* These documents have been made public at the request of the United Kingdom authorities.


Summary of the visit report and response


As regards policing, most persons met by the CPT’s delegation stated that they had been correctly treated by law enforcement officials. Nevertheless, in light of the number of complaints alleging assaults by police officers, the report says that the Scottish authorities must remain vigilant and continue their zero-tolerance policy towards ill-treatment. The report recommends strengthening the safeguards in place for persons detained by the police; for example, providing access to an independent lawyer when exceptionally access to a detained person’s own lawyer is delayed by the police in accordance with Article 15 A of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 and improving the provision of information to detained persons. In respect of Glasgow Sheriff Court, the CPT recommends that the 4m² cells for accommodating adult males should hold no more than three persons for short periods whereas they were holding double that number at the time of the visit.

In their response, the Scottish authorities provide information about the new Police Investigations and Review Commissioner and the steps being taken to improve conditions of detention in police stations and at Glasgow Sheriff Court.  The authorities consider the safeguards in place for persons detained by the police as sufficient.

In relation to prison matters, the report notes that overcrowding remains an important issue in some prisons such as Barlinnie, which was operating at 120% above its design capacity of 1,021 places. The CPT recommends that efforts to bring down overcrowding by promoting alternatives to imprisonment such as the Community Payback Order be pursued.  In their response, the Scottish authorities provide information on the steps being taken to tackle overcrowding including measures to reduce reoffending.

Relations between prisoners and staff in the establishments visited were generally positive but a few allegations were received of excessive use of force by prison officers at Barlinnie Prison and of verbal abuse by female prison officers at Cornton Vale Prison. The report also highlights that a number of prisoners at Kilmarnock Prison did not feel safe and that the atmosphere at this prison was rather tense. In response, the Scottish authorities reaffirm their zero-tolerance policy of inappropriate behaviour, and of their commitment to investigate any allegations of assault. Information is also provided on the anti-bullying strategy put in place at Kilmarnock Prison, including identifying and separating the bullies.

The material conditions in the prisons visited were on the whole satisfactory and the report acknowledges the efforts being done to provide sentenced prisoners with work, education and other activities. The CPT is however critical of the fact that remand prisoners at Barlinnie Prison often spend up to 22 hours a day confined to their cells and recommends that action be taken to develop the number of purposeful activities on offer. A similar recommendation is made in respect of female prisoners, particularly those held at Edinburgh Prison. In their reply, the Scottish authorities provide information on the steps being taken to increase the number of hours prisoners are actively engaged outside of their cells.

The report notes that the transfer of health care in prisons to the National Health Service has on the whole been effected smoothly. In this respect, the authorities provide information on the current medical staffing levels in the prisons visited. As for mental health in prison, the CPT recommends that inmates with severe mental disorders are not held in segregation units and are transferred more rapidly to appropriate in-patient facilities. It also recommends that clinical psychologists should be recruited to help manage female prisoners with personality and behavioural disorders. The authorities concur, and refer to the steps being taken to address these issues including the commissioning of a specific programme of treatment and support for women prisoners with personality disorders.

Recommendations are also made to strengthen safeguards surrounding discipline and segregation, and to provide increased support to foreign national prisoners. The CPT is once again critical of the 63 cupboard-like cubicles in which prisoners are placed during the admission process to Barlinnie Prison. In their response, the authorities provide information on the measures being taken to address these issues as well as other prison-related issues raised in the CPT’s report concerning staffing and the functioning of the complaints system.

As regards Rowanbank medium-secure psychiatric clinic, the CPT had a very favourable impression of the facility. Further, the report describes the independent advocacy service at the clinic as an example of good practice.  The report does recommend that arrangements be put in place to ensure that a female patient in need of care in a high-security mental health facility is transferred speedily. To this end, the authorities state that they are reviewing the Referral Protocol to Rampton Secure Hospital in England to ensure transfers take place as quickly as possible.

Immigration removal centres (IRC) in England

At Brook House IRC, relations between staff and detainees seemed to be positive; however, at Colnbrook IRC many detainees complained about the unsupportive and negative attitude of staff and a few allegations of excessive use of force and verbal abuse by staff were received. At both centres, the CPT found the conditions and regime satisfactory for the average length of stay, but for persons held longer than a few months a broader range of purposeful activities should be developed. Recommendations have been made in relation to health care, including ending the handcuffing of detained persons during medical consultations in hospitals.  Further, the CPT recommends that cases where a medical practitioner has submitted a report that a detained person may have been the victim of torture (Rule 35.3 of the Detention Centre Rules (2001)), the case is rapidly reviewed to determine whether continued detention is appropriate. More generally, the report expresses concern over the indefinite nature of detention and the number of persons spending longer than a year in immigration detention.

The United Kingdom authorities provide information on the various issues raised in the report, and affirm that detention is only used as a last resort and for the shortest period necessary.

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