The International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)

The International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) commits all State parties (currently 154 States) to ensure protection for all individuals from torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

CAT was adopted in 1984 and entered into force in 1987. The UK ratified CAT in December 1988.

Article 1 of the Convention defines torture as any act whereby “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for purposes including the extraction of information or a confession, punishment, intimidation or coercion, or any reason based on discrimination - where such pain or suffering “is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”. There are currently three General Comments which clarify the scope and content of CAT’s provisions.

The Convention also prohibits the expulsion, return, or extradition of a person to another State where that person may be subjected to torture. Each State party which has signed this Convention must ensure that all acts of torture are offences under their criminal law.

States are obliged to produce reports to the Committee which outline progress and legislative, judicial and policy measures taken to fulfil their obligations under the Convention. Each State is expected to submit a report initially one year after consenting to the Convention and then every four years thereafter, or otherwise as directed by the Committee. 

The last full review of the UK took place in May 2013 and the accompanying Concluding Observations can be accessed here. The UK will be next reviewed in April May 2019, with the pre-session having taken place in April 2016 to determine the List of Issues. The United Kingdom government submitted the State report (6th periodic report) in November 2017 in advance of this review.

More information on the reporting status and access to all relevant documentation including: State reports, Civil society & NHRI submissions; Concluding Observations and follow-up State reports can be accessed here.

NHRI Engagement

In order to support the most recent review of CAT in 2013, the Commission undertook a number of activities, including:

  1. Submission of a parallel report.
  2. Submission of a joint follow-up report (with EHRC & NIHRC) regarding Concluding Observations adopted by the Committee Against Torture on the 5th periodic report of the UK. 
  3. Provided oral evidence and attend the UK State Review.
  4. Met with the Committee members‎ and/or country rapporteur.
  5. Met the UK Government representative before and after the review in Geneva.

In its report the Commission made 15 recommendations to the Committee, many of which were relevant to the Scottish Government as well as the UK Government. Some of the recommendations include:

  • That the Convention should be incorporated in full into UK and Scottish domestic law and individuals become entitled to take to the Convention committee individual petitions concerning the UK under the Convention.
  • A timetable should be developed by the Scottish Government to implement the recommendations of the Commission on Women Offenders.
  • The UK and Scottish Government should develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent and combat human trafficking.
  • The Scottish Government should ensure that independent custody visiting is compliant with the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture (“OPCAT”).
  • Police Scotland should further embed human rights standards and best practice into the new policing framework. Immigration staff should receive more training so that they can recognise signs of trauma and torture.
  • The Scottish Government should commit to specific targets to reduce the number of children in detention.
  • ​Corporal punishment of children should be prohibited by the UK and Scottish Governments.
  • The UK Government should ensure that the cumulative impact of welfare cuts do not breach people’s human rights under the Convention.

The Commission is also engaging with the upcoming Review in 2019. It will submit a parallel report for the session in March 2019.

Civil Society Engagement

Civil society has the potential to engage with this Treaty in a number of ways:

  1. Submitting written information to the Committee
  2. Submitting an alternative report
  3. Providing information for the list of issues
  4. Attending Sessions and Making Oral Submissions to the Committee

The Commission held a training and capacity building event in November 2018 to promote engagement with the Treaty and UNCAT Chair Jens Modvig gave best practice examples of reporting process.