The United Nations optional protocol to the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (OPCAT), which the UK ratified in December 2003, requires states parties to establish a “national preventive mechanism” (NPM) to carry out visits to places of detention to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Government established the UK NPM in March 2009 (Hansard 31 March 2009, Vol. 490, Part No. 57, Column 56WS). The UK NPM is currently composed of 21 scrutiny bodies covering the whole of the UK.
Following previous practice, I have presented to Parliament the 11th NPM’s annual report (Command Paper 366). This report covers the period from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.
I again commend the important work that the NPM has carried out over the year and the NPM’s independent role in safeguarding the human rights of detainees across the UK and its role in preventing torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. The Government takes allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment very seriously and any allegations are investigated fully. The Government do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture for any purpose.
The NPM report includes observations in relation to prisons, mental health detention and social care, children in detention, immigration detention and police and court custody. Notably, the report sets out the NPM’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. Government action since the beginning of the pandemic has helped to limit the spread of the virus in prisons. With the country now in national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, prisons have introduced tougher measures to help save lives and protect the NHS. These include routinely testing all staff as well as new prisoners so we can better protect our staff and isolate those who test positive even earlier, and rolling out of the vaccine to older prisoners, mirroring the community roll-out and beginning with those aged 80-plus this month, to protect the most vulnerable. This is in addition to the stringent safety measures already in place to protect staff, prisoners and children in custody, which Public Health England endorsed as being effective in limiting the spread of the virus, and ultimately in saving lives.