On 27th February 2018, Dr Alan Mitchell spoke at a seminar at 5 St Andrew’s Hill in which he gave us an insight into the work of the European Committee of the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).

Natasha Shotunde examines the key points following the interesting and enlightening seminar.

When looking to obtain evidence of ill-treatment and poor prison conditions, the reports of the European Committee of the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) might be your first port of call. How is the evidence for the CPT reports obtained? On 27th February 2018, Dr Alan Mitchell spoke at a seminar at 5 St Andrew’s Hill in which he gave us an insight into the work of the European Committee of the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).

The CPT is an independent monitoring body consisting of lawyers, medical doctors and specialists in prison or police matters, who visit places of detention in member states of the Council of Europe. Places of detention include police stations, prisons, immigration detention centres, psychiatric hospitals and social care homes. The CPT is based on confidentiality and cooperation with state parties, as CPT reports are not published unless they have the consent of the member state concerned.

The CPT undertakes general periodic and ad-hoc visits. During the visits, they have the right to speak to prisoners and staff in private. Despite this, Dr Mitchell reported on how attempts are still made to ensure that acts of torture and inhuman treatment are kept hidden. One example given by Dr Mitchell was “Prison A”. The prison had a zoo containing a lion and an alligator, presumably to intimidate the inmates and none of the prisoners wanted to talk to the CPT. The CPT went to another prison which contained previous inmates from Prison A and asked them about their earlier experience at Prison A. The prisoners disclosed that part of the induction process at Prison A was rape by other prisoners.

In a second example, Dr Mitchell described meeting a prisoner who he examined with the prison doctor. The prisoner had signs of anal trauma, of which the prison doctor agreed. However, when in front of the Minister of Justice, the prison doctor denied observing signs of anal trauma and suggested that the interpreter had misinterpreted what the doctor had said.

Dr Mitchell stated that the CPT was aware of attempts to mislead them, however, he informed us of their determination to uncover the truth and to protect detainees. He gave an example of a detainee at an immigration detention centre who was covered in bruises. The CPT insisted that the detainee should be taken to a local hospital. After three of the doctors at the hospital falsely claimed that the detainee had no visible signs of injury, the CPT took the detainee to hospital themselves, at which a doctor agreed to give the detainee treatment.

Dr Mitchell was asked about a Paraguayan appeal case, in which the judge suggested that one should look at prisons through the prism of the standards of that country, rather than our own standards. To support this idea, Dr Mitchell used an example of a prison in Kuwait where it was 49 degrees and the cells were air-conditioned. Unsurprisingly, none of the prisoners complained about a lack of outdoor exercise, given the climate. However, there is a fine line between taking the climate of the country into consideration and ignoring a basic standard of treatment in favour of a state’s views on ill-treatment or inhabitable prison conditions.

In terms of the language the CPT adopts in their reports, Dr Mitchell described it as “diplomatic” to encourage cooperation between the CPT and the state. This is understandable as reports can only be published by the consent of the state. However, he pointed to the wording in the recent report on the United Kingdom, particularly a passage which states that:

“[t]he cumulative effect of certain systemic failings was that none of the establishments visited could be considered safe for prisoners or staff.”

Examples such as this clearly demonstrate that the CPT will not hide behind tactful language when there are serious problems with the prison estate.

Described by Ben Keith as the “golden standard” of evidence to get before the court, it was encouraging to hear of the CPT’s dogged determination to present a true picture of places of detention in member states of the Council of Europe. It is also promising to see that their hard work on cooperation has resulted in 374 CPT reports being published (out of 423 visits).

For us lawyers, a recent CPT report that assists our case is invaluable. However, there remains a real need for regularly updated reports, as Ben Keith stated that the courts “need a recent picture” of places of detention. Despite this, the work of the CTP is necessary to ensure that Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights is respected in places of detention in Europe, and the efforts of the CPT will hopefully continue to promote human rights and encourage states to maintain appropriate standards.

5 St Andrew’s Hill would like to thank Dr Mitchell for enlightening us with an inside perspective on inspecting prisons and the work of the CPT.

Natasha Shotunde is a barrister who accepts instructions in landlord and tenant, civil, family, crime, regulatory and extradition.