Natrag Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes report on Iceland

At the request of the Icelandic authorities, 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 visit to Iceland, carried out in September 2012, together with the response of the Icelandic authorities. Both the report and the response have already been made public by the Icelandic authorities, on 19 November 2013.

Most of the persons with recent experience of police custody who were interviewed by the CPT’s delegation stated that they had been treated in a correct manner. The conclusion reached by the Committee after its previous visits – namely that persons detained by the police in Iceland run little risk of being ill-treated – remains valid. As for conditions of detention in the police establishments visited, they were generally adequate.

As regards prisons, the CPT received hardly any allegations of deliberate physical ill-treatment of prisoners by staff. That said, the Committee highlights in its report a number of principles and minimum standards which should be complied with on those rare occasions when means of restraint have to be applied to a prisoner. The delegation found evidence of inter-prisoner violence and intimidation at Litla-Hraun Prison and, to a lesser extent, at Akureyri and Kópavogur Prisons. A Litla-Hraun, prisoners from certain categories were afraid of their fellow inmates, and several of them refused to leave their wing in order to take outdoor exercise or participate in organised activities.  The CPT has made recommendations aimed at addressing this problem.

The CPT strongly encourages the Icelandic authorities to pursue the project to build a new remand prison in Reykjavík; this would allow all remand prisoners from the capital area to be accommodated closer to their families, and make it possible to offer them an appropriate range of activities. The CPT has also noted with interest the plans to set up a centre specifically designed for persons detained under aliens legislation, thereby avoiding the current situation of such persons being held in prison. The Committee has stressed that the future centre should offer material conditions and a regime of activities which reflect the legal status of the detainees and should be staffed by suitably qualified personnel.  
Material conditions of detention at Litla-Hraun, Kópavogur and Akureyri Prisons remained generally of a high standard. However, the CPT has called for further efforts to be made to develop programmes of activities for inmates in the three establishments. Further, specific recommendations are made in order to improve the conditions of detention of remand prisoners held at Akureyri Prison.

Concerning prison health-care, the situation was generally good and in compliance with the principle of equivalence of care. However, the CPT has recommended steps to ensure the systematic medical screening of newly-arrived inmates and the proper recording and reporting of injuries observed on inmates (whether on arrival or at a later stage). Access for prisoners to psychiatric and psychological assistance also needs to be improved.

The CPT’s delegation heard no allegations of ill-treatment of patients by staff in any of the psychiatric establishments visited; it was clear that staff were committed to the patients' welfare and had a caring attitude towards them. Moreover, patients’ living conditions and treatment were satisfactory, with the exception of a lack of guaranteed daily outdoor exercise for all patients at the psychiatric ward of Akureyri Hospital and at the secure ward of the Psychiatric Department of Reykjavík National University Hospital. The CPT’s main concern in this area relates, as previously, to the absence of comprehensive mental health legislation; the current legal framework is at best incomplete and obliges the management and staff of the institutions to improvise and fill in the gaps. The Committee calls upon the Icelandic authorities to carry out a thorough review of the current mental health legislation, as regards both civil and forensic patients.

In their response, the Icelandic authorities acknowledge many of the issues raised by the CPT and refer to various measures (planned or already taken) to address them e.g. the construction of a new prison in Reykjavik, guaranteeing the provision of daily outdoor exercise for all prisoners and psychiatric patients, and the review of mental health legislation.

The CPT’s visit report and the response of the Icelandic authorities are available on the Committee's website:

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