Minister for Justice publishes General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill
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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has received government approval to publish the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill.
The bill will provide for the designation of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) that will act as national inspection bodies of places of detention in the State.
The establishment or designation of a NPM is necessary to allow Ireland to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). OPCAT provides an oversight mechanism which assists States in preventing torture and other forms of ill-treatment in places of detention.
The approach proposed in the General Scheme is to expand the existing statutory role of the Inspector of Prisons to become a Chief Inspector of Places of Detention. The Chief Inspector will be designated as the NPM not just for prisons but for relevant places of detention within the whole justice sector, including detention in Garda stations, court holding cells and in vehicles transporting persons between places of detention.
The bill will also strengthen and update the statutory basis in place for the Inspector of Prisons.
Speaking about the General Scheme, Minister McEntee said:
"I am delighted to publish the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill as approved by Government this week. Progressing this legislation will allow us to deliver on our Programme for Government commitment to ratify OPCAT.
"This is a major piece of work which will further strengthen Ireland’s commitment to the highest international standards in this area of human rights. This legislation will help ensure that detention conditions and wellbeing of any persons deprived of liberty are maintained in accordance with recognised international standards.
"The proposed approach of expanding the remit of the Inspector of Prisons to become an Inspector of Places of Detention will allow for the existing structure and expertise to be retained and applied to other places of detention in the justice sector which have not, to date, had the benefit of such oversight."
The establishment of statutory NPMs will have the effect of setting standards which will be subject to international inspection and monitoring and will ensure that all places of detention in the State consistently meet recognised standards.
It is important to note that places of detention are not limited to those in the criminal justice sector. This Bill will enable other Ministers to designate national preventive mechanisms for places of detention outside the justice sector and within their own remit.
It is intended that IHREC will become a co-ordinating National Preventive Mechanism, co-ordinating the activities of NPMs and maintaining effective liaison with the UN oversight body – the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT).
Speaking about the valuable input from civil society in relation to the development of these new proposals, Minister McEntee said:
"In developing these legislative proposals, my department consulted with various organisations and experts with policy or operational responsibility for inspection arrangements across the range of the potential NPM regime provided for in OPCAT. These consultations indicated broad support for the proposed approach of an expanded role for the Office of the Inspector of Prisons as the NPM for the justice sector and for the designation of IHREC as a co-ordinating NPM for Ireland."
Ratification of OPCAT and the enactment of this legislation will allow for more rigorous standards in inspecting places of detention in this State. Both international and national inspection bodies (the NPMs) will be facilitated with unfettered access to facilities, information and engagement with those deprived of their liberty and people working in places of detention.
The ratification of OPCAT and establishment or designation of NPMs will strengthen Ireland’s commitment to upholding human rights and provides an opportunity to improve conditions and enhance safeguards against ill treatment across all places of detention.
Ireland ratified the UN Convention against Torture in 2002.
The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) was agreed by the UN General Assembly in 2002, introducing a combined system of national and international monitoring of places of detention with a view to preventing ill-treatment and torture in places of detention.
Ireland signed the OPCAT in October 2007.
The Programme for Government contains a commitment to ratify OPCAT. Ratification of OCPAT will strengthen Ireland’s commitment to the highest international standards in this area of human rights.
The main obligation under the Protocol is to set up independent National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM) – in effect, the establishment of independent body(s) at a national level to undertake regular visits to places of detention and formulate recommendations to the authorities.
OPCAT is unique in that it is pro-active and aims to prevent actions from taking place by creating at a national level an inspection regime to prevent torture.
The objective of the Protocol is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty.
As the majority of such persons in the State are held within the prison system, the Department of Justice is preparing the necessary legislation.