Natrag 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 sixth periodic visit to the United Kingdom in November/December 2008, together with the response of the United Kingdom Government. These documents have been made public at the request of the United Kingdom authorities.

In England, the CPT’s delegation examined the safeguards afforded to persons deprived of their liberty by the police as well as the treatment of inmates and conditions of detention in three local prisons (Manchester, Wandsworth and Woodhill) and a juvenile young offender institution (Huntercombe). In Northern Ireland, the delegation looked at developments as regards policing and in the two adult male prisons (Maghaberry and Magilligan) since the Committee’s last visit there in 1999. In both these parts of the country, the situation of immigration detainees was also examined, including through a visit to an immigration removal centre (Harmondsworth).


Summary of the visit report and response


As regards policing matters, the CPT’s delegation received no allegations of severe ill-treatment by police officers. However, in view of the significant number of complaints in the “oppressive behaviour” category registered by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Committee has recommended that senior police officers regularly deliver the clear message that the ill-treatment of detained persons is not acceptable. The CPT has also noted the plans to extend the use of electro-shock weapons (Tasers) by police forces and expressed concern that the current guidance leaves open the door to misuse of such weapons. In terms of safeguards during police custody, the CPT considers that the provision of medical care could be improved, and it recommends that all 17 year olds detained by the police should be treated as juveniles (not as adults), thereby strengthening the safeguards surrounding their custody. In response, the authorities refer to the criteria for the use of Taser by specially trained units and the safeguards in place. They also provide information on the steps being taken to improve custody officer training and to strengthen health-care provision in police stations; and they confirm that a legislative amendment will be introduced to treat all under 18s as juveniles.  Responding to recommendations made by the CPT concerning persons detained under the Terrorism Act 2000, the authorities highlight improvements to conditions of detention at Paddington Green High Security Police Station; however, they reiterate their position that it is not necessary for a detained person to always be brought within the direct physical presence of a judge.

On prison matters, the report expresses concern over the continuing rise in the prison population and the resulting overcrowding. The CPT advocates a more imaginative approach towards reducing prison numbers; it also advises against the building of ‘Titan’ prisons. In response, the authorities provide information on enhancing the effectiveness of alternatives to custody, increasing the capacity of the prison estate, including through the building of five large prisons (1,500 inmates each), and introducing savings on administration and overheads.

As regards conditions of detention in the three prisons visited, the report highlights the overcrowding observed by the CPT’s delegation and that too many inmates continue to spend too much time locked in their cells with little access to any meaningful activities. The authorities contest some of the findings and point to the varied opportunities offered to prisoners for work, education and recreation, and the ongoing measures taken to provide good cell accommodation.

The report highlights a number of shortcomings as regards the management of prisoners with indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPP); among other things, such prisoners often had difficulties in accessing behavioural offender programmes. In their response, the authorities refer to a series of measures that have been introduced to address these concerns. In response to recommendations by the CPT, they also provide information on the regime afforded to prisoners in the Category A unit at Manchester Prison, and comment extensively on the Close Supervision Centre at Woodhill Prison, which holds some of the most challenging prisoners in the system.

The CPT has noted the positive developments in the provision of health care in prisons, following the transfer of responsibility to the National Health Service (NHS) in 2005. In this respect, the authorities note that experienced NHS staff were continuing to take up health-care posts in prison. As for mental health in prison, the Committee comments that inmates with severe mental disorders need to be transferred more rapidly to appropriate in-patient facilities. The authorities concur, and refer to the Bradley Review of April 2009, which makes clear that there is a need to have more robust models of primary health care in prison.

Other prison-related issues raised in the CPT’s report include staffing and the functioning of the complaints system.

As regards juvenile detention, the report welcomes the increased range of measures and schemes aimed at reducing recourse to deprivation of liberty and trusts they will be adequately funded. In response, the authorities state their commitment to reducing the number of young people in custody, and provide information on the new Youth Rehabilitation Order and the increased role of local authorities, particularly as concerns the provision of effective resettlement services for young people leaving custody. 

The CPT’s delegation gathered no evidence of physical ill-treatment of inmates by staff at Huntercombe YOI. However, concern is expressed about the number of incidents of inter-inmate violence which required use of force by staff to end. The report highlights the importance of ensuring both that there are sufficient numbers of staff present and that special procedures and courses are in place for the recruitment and training of all staff working with young persons. The authorities’ response points to current increased staffing levels at Huntercombe as well as the development of specific recruitment procedures and enhanced training, including the introduction of conflict resolution training, for staff working with juveniles. 

Further, the authorities provide information on the efforts being made to offer a meaningful regime and make reference to the new education contract, increased physical education and association activities. However, the authorities disagree with the CPT that the routine practice of strip-searching is disproportionate. Further, they argue that the extremely challenging behaviour of some young people means that  the use of pain compliant means of restraint on young persons as a last resort should be retained, while advocating a series of safeguards to minimise resort to restraint. In response to the  recommendation that steps be taken to improve the complaints system, the authorities refer to a review being undertaken by the Youth Justice Board. Information is also provided in respect of recommendations relating to health care, discipline, contacts with the outside world, as well as on action being taken to reduce the time juveniles spend in secure transportation vans.  

As regards immigration detainees, the CPT visited Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre and found both the conditions and regime satisfactory for the average length of stay. Recommendations have been made to improve the medical screening of detainees and for a mental health nurse to be recruited. More generally, the report expresses concern over the growing numbers of persons spending longer than a year in immigration detention. The authorities provide information on the various issues raised in the report, and affirm that persons are not detained longer than is necessary.

Northern Ireland

The CPT’s report notes the extensive changes in policing over the past decade, and highlights the fact that it received no allegations of ill-treatment of persons detained by the Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI). However, it makes reference to the necessity to have strict criteria in place for the use of electro-shock weapons (Tasers), which should closely correspond to those governing the use of firearms. The authorities concur and refer to the strict guidelines and training for police officers currently in place.

The report states that formal safeguards against ill-treatment appear to operate satisfactorily, but concerns are raised as to the availability of appropriate psychiatric care for persons detained by the police; for example, situations where police officers resort to tying detained persons naked to a chair in order to prevent acts of self-harm are not acceptable. The CPT has also made recommendations about medical confidentiality and care provided to persons on suicide watch in police stations. The police stations visited were generally well maintained and clean. However, concern is expressed about the practice of holding immigration detainees in police custody suites for up to seven days; the CPT recommends that more appropriate facilities be provided for the detention of such persons.

In response, the PSNI points out that measures are being taken to improve care afforded to persons with mental health problems held in police stations. It also states that a feasibility study for a short-term holding facility for immigration detainees is underway, but that funding is currently not available.

As to prisons, the report recommends that measures be taken to prevent overcrowding becoming a permanent feature of the prison system, and that cells of 7m² should not accommodate more than one prisoner. In their response, the authorities provide information on measures to increase the use of alternatives to custody and on the development of the prison estate. However, they state that current population levels mean that 7m² cells must continue to be used to accommodate two prisoners, while acknowledging that the cells of this size at Maghaberry Prison were not designed for this purpose.

The report documents several allegations of ill-treatment by members of the Stand-by Search Team (SST) at Maghaberry Prison, and recommends action is taken to ensure the SST does not abuse its powers. More generally, the CPT stresses the importance of prison management following up on all complaints of ill-treatment. Further, in the light of complaints by prisoners, the Committee has recommended the authorities to ensure that all full-body searches are carried out in accordance with the relevant rules and respect the dignity of the prisoner concerned. Measures are also recommended to reduce the incidence of inter-prisoner violence at Maghaberry Prison.

In response, the Northern Ireland Prison Service argues that the very nature of the tasks assigned to the SST (searches, responding to incidents) will result in more complaints; it is stated that every complaint is investigated but that, to date, none have been upheld. Nevertheless, the role of the SST is one of the issues the new Management Team at Maghaberry Prison will be considering. The Prison Service refutes allegations made by prisoners concerning inappropriate body searches but has reminded staff of the procedure to be followed. Further, it states that measures are being taken to reduce incidents of inter-prisoner violence at Maghaberry Prison, through increased surveillance, education of prisoners and seeking to reintroduce prison staff into the rooms used by prisoners for association.

The authorities also provide information on the measures being taken to enhance the provision of health-care, and respond to the concerns raised in the report in relation to the safeguards in place governing discipline and segregation. In response to the CPT’s recommendation for the complaints system to offer appropriate guarantees of independence, impartiality and thoroughness, the authorities provide details on a new internal complaints procedure.

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