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Irish Penal Reform Trust calls on next Government to ratify key anti-torture mechanism by 2017

22nd April 2016

MEDIA ADVISORY

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading campaigners for the protection of human rights in detention, has today (Friday, 22nd April 2016) called on all representatives engaged in Government negotiations to ensure that clear commitments to safeguard against inhumane treatment in places of detention are included in the next Programme for Government. IPRT outlined that these safeguards can be achieved through:

  • the introduction of a fully independent prisoner complaints mechanism, such as a Prisoner Ombudsman, or extend access to the general Ombudsman; and
  • ratification of the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment), which Ireland signed in 2007.

The OPCAT is key to the prevention of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment in all places of detention, including: prisons, Garda stations, psychiatric institutions, children detention schools, military facilities, and airports. Ireland’s failure to ratify the OPCAT is at odds with the State’s promotion of human rights on the international stage.

IPRT made these calls on the occasion of the Prison Litigation Conference, co-hosted by IPRT and the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, which examined effective access to justice in prison. The conference was attended by legal professionals, academics and members of the judiciary. Speakers at the conference included The Hon Mr Justice Gerard Hogan; Senator Ivana Bacik; Pete Weatherby QC, Garden Court North (UK); Dr Lisa Kerr, Queen’s University, Kingston (Ontario); and Prof Mary Rogan, Trinity College Dublin.

A new IPRT research launched at the conference, Prison Litigation Network Project: National Report on Ireland, found low confidence in the operation of the current prison complaints mechanism. It also found that there is no information available publicly on the numbers of complaints made by prisoners, the number of complaints upheld, and how such complaints are resolved. A review of the prisoner complaints procedure undertaken by the Inspector of Prisons, announced by the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD in November 2015, has yet to be published.

Speaking in advance of the conference, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

“Currently, resolving prison issues through the Irish Courts is slow and costly, and the impact of prison litigation in bringing about systemic reform is difficult to measure. A fully functional independent complaints mechanism, such as an Ombudsman, which is both effective and trusted by prisoners and prison staff alike, would offer a speedier and more cost-effective method of resolving prisoner complaints. The Prison Officers Association, the McMorrow Commission, and the Director General of the Irish Prison Service have all identified the need for a Prisoner Ombudsman or equivalent.”

“IPRT’s research suggests low confidence in the operation of the current prison complaints mechanism. However, there is no information available publicly on the numbers of complaints made by prisoners, the number of complaints upheld, and how such complaints are resolved. The Inspector of Prisons’ review of the prisoner complaints procedure must be published expeditiously and the Minister for Justice must act swiftly on any findings and recommendations therein.”

On ratification of the OPCAT, Ms Malone added:

“Ireland’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which it signed in 2007, is now long overdue. We are calling on the next Government to commit clearly to the creation of a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) and the ratification by Ireland of the OPCAT as a safeguard against the potential inhumane treatment of people in places of detention in Ireland. Quite simply, the more open and transparent that places of detention are, the less the risk for abuse."

On the occasion of the Prison Litigation Conference, IPRT calls on all elected TDs engaged in Programme for Government negotiations to consider inclusion of the following commitments to prevent inhumane treatment behind bars:

  1. To commit to the introduction of a robust and effective external prisoner complaints mechanism, such as a Prisoner Ombudsman, which is fully independent of the Irish Prison Service; 
  2. To commit to ratification of the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) by 2017; and
  3. To commit to the introduction of a robust National Preventative Mechanism (a national detention monitoring body), which has multidisciplinary expertise and is functionally independent with financial autonomy.

For further comment, or an interview with IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone, contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990

NOTES:

1 – TCD/IPRT Prison Litigation Conference

On Friday 22 April 2016, IPRT and the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin co-hosted a conference on prison litigation attended by over 70 legal professionals, academics, students and members of the judiciary. The conference: examined the use of law in a prison context; refreshed the debate around effective access to justice in prison; and provided current updates to legal practitioners. The full programme and biographies is available here.

As part of the conference, a new National Report on Prison Litigation in Ireland was launched. The report is available here

2 – IPRT: Key Recommendations for the next Programme for Government

In February 2016, IPRT published five priority commitments for the next Programme for Government, guided by the evidence of what works to prevent crime and to reduce reoffending.

3 – IPRT: Priority Penal Policy Directions 2016-2021

In advance of the #GE2016, IPRT put forward its ten priority directions for a fairer and more effective justice system, backed up by solid evidence and research. Full details are available here

4 – Inspector of Prisons: Review of Prisoner Complaints Procedure

In November 2015, Minister Fitzgerald stated that “[a]s part of his oversight of the complaints process, the Inspector is in the process of reviewing the prisoner complaints procedure currently in operation and the outcome of that review will be presented to me on completion.” (Source: Dáil Question, 11th November 2015: https://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2015-11-11a.304) As of 22nd April 2016, the report has not yet been published.

5 – Ratification of OPCAT

Ireland signed the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) in October 2007, but has yet to ratify it. More than 80 States internationally have already ratified OPCAT: http://www.apt.ch/en/opcat-database/ Ratification of the OPCAT requires the introduction of a National Preventative Mechanism (a national detention monitoring body), which has multidisciplinary expertise and which is functionally independent with financial autonomy.

The outgoing Government committed to ratification of OPCAT by way of the proposed 'Inspection of Places of Detention Bill', with the purpose: “To give legislative effect to the OPCAT, strengthen Prisons Inspectorate, put Council of Europe inspection regime on a statutory footing and address matters relating to Prison Visiting Committees.”

6 – Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.

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