Sophie van der Valk and Mary Rogan
During the latest session of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, Ireland’s second periodic report on its implementation of the Convention against Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment was under review. Minister for State, David Stanton, led the Irish delegation before the Committee. This session was well attended by various civil society organisations and NGOs working in fields affected by UNCAT, furthermore submissions were made by the IHREC and the IPRT to the Committee ahead of the session which directly addressed prison inspection and the complaint mechanism. While Ireland has signed, and ratified the Convention itself, it remains only a signatory to the Optional Protocol. The long delay between signature and ratification of the Protocol was raised by the Committee and they requested information on a time line for ratification of the optional protocol and also on the establishment of a National Preventative Mechanism, the key domestic obligation under the protocol. While the Department of Justice and Equality reassured the Committee of Ireland’s commitment to OPCAT making reference to the open consultative process regarding a options for the National Preventative Mechanism, the Concluding Observations of the Committee included a request for follow-up information on the ratification of OPCAT by the 11th August 2018.
Inspection and complaint mechanisms for prisons was one of the areas under consideration. Ireland was commended for their introduction of a formal complaint mechanism since their last report, however concerns were raised given shortcomings reported with the mechanism. There was a need to keep any reform under review to ensure it afforded full protection of rights. The lack of a “completely independent mechanism” remained a concern for the committee, as well as the need for an “independent appeal procedure” outside of the prison system. Movement may already be under way to address these concerns in light of Minister Fitzgerald’s announcement earlier this year, that the mandate of the Ombudsman would be extended to include the receipt of prisoner complaints with the changes aiming to be in operation by 2018. This development was welcomed by Ms Racu of the Committee.
During the review, questions were raised on the work of the Inspector of Prisons. The Committee valued the Inspector’s reports as an important source of information on prisons in Ireland, as indicated by their reliance on his guidance in their issues under consideration, however funding and resources provided were a concern for the Committee. The Department of Justice and Equality stated that the office of the Inspector of Prisons is adequately resourced and recommendations are treated seriously and almost invariably accepted. In the concluding observations, it was noted with concern the delay in the publication of reports, the latest annual report being published in 2014 and only covering seven of 14 places of detention in Ireland. The Committee stated that the State Party should “ensure that existing bodies which currently monitor places of detention as well as civil society organizations are allowed to make repeated and unannounced visits to all places of deprivation of liberty, publish reports and have the State party act on their recommendations.”
A number of questions and statements were directed at the completion and contents of the inspection of places of detention bill, especially the lack of progress in regards to the enacting the bill. Mr. Hani, of the Committee, highlighted the importance of ensuring the Bill encompassed all places of detention.
The review by the Committee was a thorough exercise in public accountability, with Ireland’s record on prisons, as well as a wide range of other topics, under close examination. The review was also an opportunity to see the impact of scrutiny in action, with government officials providing updates on progress and information on planned developments. The work of NGOs as monitors and accountability mechanisms was also most evident.
The PRILA team will be examining the progress in implementing OPCAT in Ireland, changes to the complaints procedures in prison, and the development of the role of the Inspector of Prisons as part of its research on the inspection and oversight of prisons.
The PRILA project is funded by the European Research Council and examines the legal regulation, experiences and impacts of inspection and oversight of prisons.
Sophie Van Der Valk is a PhD candidate at the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, working on prisoners’ experiences of oversight as part of the PRILA project.
Mary Rogan is an Associate Professor at the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin and Principal Investigator on the PRILA project.
The PRILA project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 679362.