Council of Europe Report - United Kingdom

On 8 December 2009 the Council of Europe's Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CPT) published the report on its sixth periodic visit to the United Kingdom in November/December 2008.

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).

In relation to England:

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

In relation to 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 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.

- 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.

Previous CPT reports may be found here

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