IHREC: Government proposals will not bring Ireland into compliance with OPCAT requirements

IHREC: Government proposals will not bring Ireland into compliance with OPCAT requirements

Sinéad Gibney

Government proposals to reform the inspection of prisons will not allow Ireland to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has said.

The rights body will become the co-ordinating national preventative mechanism (NPM) under the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill, giving it oversight of the entire NPM network across the State — an essential role in establishing consistency in prison inspections.

However, the Commission said the general scheme of the bill does not go far enough in key areas relating to resourcing and independence of the NPMs, and how the network of NPMs relate to each other and with civil society and prison visiting committees.

It has also raised concerns about plans to expand the role and remit of the Office of Inspector of Prisons, transforming it into the Inspectorate of Places of Detention, led by a newly established Office of Chief Inspector.

Under the proposed legislation, this new office will become the designated NPM for the justice sector and will be responsible for the inspection of four places of detention. These four places are prisons, Garda stations, any vehicle used by the Garda or the Prison Service to transport detainees and places of detention immediately before and after a court appearance.

However, the Commission said this exhaustive definition of “places of detention” risks gaps in inspection, especially at de facto places of detention such as airports and ports where investigations and detentions are carried out by state bodies including the Revenue and the Garda National Immigration Bureau. Such gaps would again fall short of the requirements for OPCAT ratification, it said.

The Commission recommends that the remit of the NPM in this instance be broadened to ensure that gaps in inspection are addressed, either through focusing on the types of deprivation of liberty, or through a flexibility in the scope of the inspection.

Other recommendations include that:

  • Civil society should have a statutory role in the OPCAT structure and the relationship between it, NPMs and prison visiting committees should be clearly set out.
  • NPMs require autonomy under OPCAT including that they are adequately independent, resourced and skilled to carry out their role. This should be clearly set out in the general scheme and necessary resourcing should be supplied.
  • Ratification of OPCAT needs to happen urgently given that there are currently no independent inspection systems at the domestic level for Gardaí stations, prison transit, court detention, military detention or for certain types of de facto detention in voluntary settings.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “The fundamental importance of robust NPMs can never be understated, a point well affirmed by Ms Aisha Shujune Muhammad, vice-chair, United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, when she said: ‘The national preventive mechanisms represent the most significant single measure which States can take to prevent torture and ill-treatment occurring over time.’

“The continued delay in ratification of OPCAT is unacceptable given the lack of an independent inspection system. This must be addressed to assist in preventing ill-treatment and torture in places of detention.

“While we welcome the Commission’s proposed role as Coordinating NPM, much work remains to be done in terms of the independence, accountability and structure of the bodies proposed in this legislation before becoming OPCAT compliant.”

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