24th June 2022
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomes the publication of the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill by the Minister for Justice today (24.06.2022). This legislation, intended to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (‘OPCAT’), is long-awaited, having been on successive Governments’ Legislative Programmes since July 2017 and on the political agenda since the drafting of a General Scheme of the Bill was first approved in May 2011.
OPCAT is an important international human rights treaty which assists States in preventing torture and other forms of ill-treatment in places of detention. The Programme for Government 2020+ committed to “ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture within 18 months of the formation of the Government”. This 18-month period elapsed in December 2021.
Delays with the publication of the Bill have meant that almost 15 years have passed since Ireland signed up to OPCAT. While consultation and engagement on the General Scheme of the Bill will be crucial to ensure the most robust piece of legislation that protects the rights of people deprived of their liberty, this legislation should be moved through the Houses of the Oireachtas without undue delay. However, it is worth noting that there remains flexibility in the OPCAT to allow for the designation and/or establishment of an NPM before or after ratification, should the Government opt to do so.
From our initial reading of the General Scheme, IPRT welcomes that the legislation intends to give the new Office, the Office of the Inspection of Places of Detention (‘the Office’), the power to lay its Annual Report and other reports directly before the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a marked improvement from current practice, whereby the Office of the Inspector of Prisons submits reports to the Minister for Justice, who makes the final decision on their publication.
However, from our initial reading of the General Scheme, IPRT retains concerns about whether the Heads of the General Scheme afford the Office sufficient independence to comply with the provisions of the OPCAT. In particular, financial and functional separation from the Department of Justice is a fundamental prerequisite for independence (see IPRT, 2018) given the Irish Prison Service also falls under its aegis. We look forward to engaging meaningfully on this and other issues as the Bill moves through the Oireachtas.
The highest standards of oversight should apply to any institution where people are deprived of their liberty, be it a hospital, psychiatric institution, or prison, and these must be rigorously observed. As history has shown in Ireland, the need for robust systems of accountability are even more critical behind closed doors.
IPRT will be reviewing the General Scheme of the Bill carefully in the coming days and weeks, with a particular focus on ensuring that the provisions of the legislation are sufficient to comply with OPCAT. We will share our additional observations shortly.
For more on IPRT’s work on OPCAT, see:
For more on IPRT’s work on accountability, see: