Report calls for further action on Convention against Torture in Scotland
A new report to the United Nations by the Scottish Human Rights Commission details concerns about Scotland's record upholding the United Nations Convention against Torture. The report calls for Scottish Government action to tackle concerns including the treatment of people with mental illness and in care homes, systematic failures in investigating deaths in custody, and understaffing and overcrowding in prisons.
The Commission report is being presented to the UN's Committee against Torture (UNCAT) in Geneva on Monday 6 May. It sets out 21 recommendations to the Scottish Government on improving its human rights record in relation to the prevention of inhuman or degrading treatment.
Chair of the Commission, Judith Robertson, said:
"We all have the human right to be free from cruel and degrading treatment, whether that's in care homes or hospitals, when we use mental health services, or if we come into contact with the criminal justice system.
"The Convention against Torture protects these rights in international human rights law, and sets the standards that Scotland should be upholding through its own laws, policies and practices. As a country we have signed up to these standards but are failing to meet all of them. The Scottish Government must take action to address the concerns we have set out in our report to the UN.
"In Geneva today we will be asking the UN to press the Scottish Government to take action to close these gaps, including by incorporating all elements of the Convention against Torture into law in Scotland."
Read the full report submitted to the United Nations.
The Convention against Torture prohibits conduct such as the excessive use of force or restraint techniques in education, health, social care, prisons or where children are in custody. It also prohibits any acts in care homes, hospitals and mental health units that could be degrading, including the abuse and neglect of children or older people in residential care.
The Commission's report to the UN details a wide range of areas where Scotland is failing to meet the standards of the Convention, including:
- The treatment of older people in care homes should meet UNCAT standards. There should be effective guidance to businesses operating in the care sector on how to respect human rights.
- Several prisons in Scotland are understaffed and some prisoners are locked up for up to 22 hours a day with limited access to activities.
- Concerns exist regarding overcrowding and its impact on prisoner violence and access to recreation.
- Scottish prisons are not equipped to care appropriately for older prisoners with many experiencing poor treatment in terms of isolation and inadequate healthcare.
- Data available on segregation and rehabilitation units is hard to access and analyse. There are concerns that isolation units in prisons are overused.
- Training programmes for police and prison staff do not meet UNCAT standards and the quality of health and social care services varies across institutions.
- Foreign national prisoners experience heightened levels of isolation due to limited access to appropriate educational and recreational activities, and the lack of translated and culturally appropriate materials.
- The Commission supports and echoes calls for an end to indefinite immigration detention made by our sister body, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in their own submission to the UN. There is one immigration detention centre in Scotland.
Deaths in custody:
- There is no mandatory investigation for deaths in mental health settings in Scotland. The Commission would like to see every death of a patient being treated for mental illness subject to an investigation that is compliant with human rights standards.
- A freedom of information request in 2019 revealed that there are 127 outstanding Fatal Accident Inquiries in prisons. A significant number of deaths are still 'awaiting determination' and the longest waiting time is 8 years.
- Statistics for deaths in police custody are difficult to find and only appear to be available up to 2015. The Fatal Accident Inquiries review process is lengthy and lacks sufficient scrutiny.
- Restraint or seclusion in schools is known to take place without clear policies and procedures.
- The age of criminal responsibility should be raised beyond the minimum of 14 years of age in line with the majority of European nations.
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Notes to editors:
(i) UN Committee against Torture:
(ii) UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:
(iii) Scottish Human Rights Commission Report to UNCAT:
(iii) Equality and Human Rights Commission (sister body) Report to UNCAT: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/torture-uk-update-report (available from Tues 7 May)