Government must improve record on stopping cruel and inhuman treatment, warns national human rights body

Posted On: 
7th May 2019

The UK and Welsh governments must do more to improve their record on preventing inhuman and degrading treatment across several areas, including immigration detention, healthcare and youth custody, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned.

The EHRC is also calling for the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales to be raised. It currently stands at 10 years of age and is much lower than most European countries and inconsistent with international standards.

The EHRC’s warning comes in its submission to the United Nations’ review of the UK’s record on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, under the Convention against Torture (CAT).

The report warns that criminalising children at such a young age can have a detrimental impact on their wellbeing and development, and risks making them more likely to reoffend as adults. It recommends the adoption of more therapeutic, welfare-based approaches for dealing with the harmful behaviour of children and, where the detention of children is necessary, it should be in non-prison like settings where the children are supported by highly skilled and specialist staff able to meet their particular needs.

The report highlights the deteriorating conditions experienced by children in youth custody. It references increasing rates of violence, self-harm and restraint, including the use of pain-inducing restraint. The EHRC is calling for consistent approaches to restraint across all settings and a ban on any technique that deliberately inflicts pain on children, in line with its recently-published human rights framework for restraint. It also sets out concerns about the use of tasers and the increased use of spit hoods on children in police custody.

Indefinite immigration detention in the UK has also been raised as a significant concern. The UK remains the only country in the European Union that can legally hold people in immigration detention indefinitely. The EHRC suggests that the lack of a time limit on immigration detention and the continuing detention of torture survivors and other individuals at increased risk of harm in detention could amount to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.

The EHRC has therefore called on the UK Government to introduce a 28-day time limit on immigration detention and to ensure that detention is used only as an administrative measure of last resort.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“Everyone has the right to be free from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. That is an absolute right. Failing to adequately protect people from such dangerous and harmful acts is not only a moral failure but breaches our existing international legal obligations.

“Increasing the age of criminal responsibility is crucial to stop very young children being exposed to the harmful effects of detention and to protect their future.

“We must also introduce a 28 day limit for immigration detention to end unnecessarily long periods of detention which carry a huge cost for society as a whole and expose people who have already experienced significant hardship to further suffering. 

“Improving Britain’s record on preventing ill-treatment in our own country is essential if we want to maintain our long-held reputation as a champion of equality and human rights globally.”

The wide-ranging report also analyses the treatment of overseas detainees, the use of mental health detention, the impact of legal aid reforms on access to justice, human trafficking and modern slavery, the National Preventative Mechanism, counter-terrorism measures, asylum and migration procedures, violence against women and girls, child sexual abuse and hate crime. It also makes a cross-cutting call for investigations into allegations of mistreatment to be prompt, independent and have the power to secure all relevant evidence.

The full report and list of recommendations are available on the EHRC website and have been submitted to the United Nations as part of its review of the UK’s record on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, under the Convention against Torture (CAT).

These recommendations are addressed to the UK and Welsh Governments only, though they may also be relevant to other devolved administrations. A separate submission from the Scottish Human Rights Commission will cover areas devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and a separate submission from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will cover Northern Ireland.

The EHRC has also provided funding to support civil society’s engagement with this review by funding REDRESS to compile evidence from over 80 civil society organisations and experts.