Breaches of human rights in prisons during the pandemic
The Scottish Human Rights Commission has written to the Justice Committee at the Scottish Parliament to highlight concerns about measures being taken in prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commission has expressed concern that the current conditions being experienced by some people in Scottish prisons could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Commission is urging the Scottish Government to take action to ensure that the conditions in which all prisoners are being held are fully in accordance with their human rights obligations.
Read the full letter.
In the letter the Commission documents the serious concerns about the current conditions being experienced by some people within Scotland’s prisons. These concerns are based on the Commission’s review of the amended rules and the action required by prison governors.
The Commission has knowledge of:
- people being confined to their cell for 24 hours a day, for extended periods of time, with no access to shower facilities or time out of cell including access to outdoor exercise
- prisoners who are confined in their cells for COVID-19 related reasons being given only limited telephone contact with their lawyer
- some prisoners being unable to maintain any form of telephone contact with their families
While it may be legitimate and reasonable to suspend non-essential prison activities in the current public health emergency, any restrictions must be minimised, proportionate to the nature of the health emergency, and made in accordance with law.
Measures amounting to solitary confinement for healthcare reasons should only be adopted on the basis of a comprehensive medical assessment. Solitary confinement, which carries significant mental and physical health impacts, should only ever be adopted where it is proportionate, limited in time and subject to procedural safeguards.
The Commission is also concerned about the lack of transparent and accessible data currently available to enable adequate monitoring of prison conditions and their impacts.
Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission said:
“The Commission is deeply concerned about the current conditions being experienced by some people within Scotland’s prisons. People in prison are likely to be more vulnerable to the risks and impacts of COVID-19.
“Measures taken to protect health cannot override people’s fundamental rights. It is not acceptable to confine anyone to their cell for 24 hours a day, with no access to shower facilities or outdoor exercise, and with limited contact with the outside world.
“Given the serious nature of our concerns, we have urged the Scottish Government to take action to ensure that all prisoners are being held in conditions which are fully in accordance with the state’s human rights obligations. To date, we have not received the assurances we would wish to see in this regard.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
(i) On 20th March 2020, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) issued a Statement of Principles on the treatment of people in prisons and other places of detention during the COVID-19 pandemic: https://rm.coe.int/16809cfa4b
(ii) The United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has also produced advice on COVID-19 for State parties and National Preventive Mechanisms: https://undocs.org/CAT/OP/10
(iii) The Commission and other members of the Scottish Sub-Group of the National Preventive Mechanism wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on 2 April to highlight the relevant human rights standards for prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/npm-prod-storage-19n0nag2nk8xk/uploads/2020/04/NPM-letter-to-Cabinet-Secretary-for-Justice-re.-COVID-19.pdf