Commission writes to Cabinet Secretary for Justice on prison conditions during COVID-19

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to highlight ongoing concerns about the current conditions being experienced by some people in Scottish prisons during COVID-19. The Commission is particularly concerned about people confined to their cell for extended periods of time, with very limited access to shower facilities and time out of cells, including access to outdoor exercise.

The Commission wrote to the Justice Committee at the Scottish Parliament on 18 May 2020 to express our serious concerns and urge the Scottish Government to take action to ensure that any further restrictions to prisoners as a consequence of the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Amendment Rules 2020 were fully compliant with human rights obligations.

The Commission has now written to Humza Yousaf MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, to ask for an update on actions taken on both issues. While the Commission acknowledges that these are unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic and some steps have been made in order to facilitate time out of cell, much more needs to be done to comply with human rights obligations and prison standards.

The Commission is also concerned about the lack of transparent and accessible data currently available to enable adequate monitoring of prison conditions and their compliance with human rights standards.  Despite repeated requests the Commission is not able to access meaningful data and welcomes any efforts to improve this.

Read the full letter.

We note that the Justice Committee discussed and shared our concerns on 16 June 2020 and has also written to the Cabinet Secretary and the Scottish Prison Service to seek a response to the issues raised.


Notes to editors:

(i) On 18 May 2020, the Commission wrote to Justice Committee at the Scottish Parliament:

(ii) On 20 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:

(iii) 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:

(iv) 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.