Parliamentary debate - Prison Visiting Committees

The Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomes the debate today (2 February 2012) in the Scottish Parliament on Prison Visiting Committees.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission is the National Human Rights Institution for Scotland and is part of the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). The UK ratified OPCAT in December 2003, the objective of which is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Commission welcomes the reference to OPCAT at Section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill which provides for independent custody visiting but is concerned at the proposal to abolish prison visiting committees in favour of some form of advocacy service.  The Commission welcomes the creation of a new advocacy service for prisons, but considers that this should run alongside the human rights protections that are currently provided by prison visiting committees. 

While HMIP plays an important role in the inspection of prisons and coordinates the NPM it plays a very different role to prison visiting committees.

Over the last year, prison visiting committees have continued to monitor all 15 prisons and 8 legalised police cells in Scotland. Visiting committee members have dealt with over 1,100 complaints from prisoners and undertaken almost 1,500 unannounced visits. In other parts of the UK, there are Independent Monitoring Boards which fulfil a similar function to prison visiting committees and which form part of the NPM.

The Commission supports the conclusions of the 2005 Review of prison visiting committees, that they should be re-established as Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs). They should be independent and form part of the NPM to ensure that prisoners in Scotland receive the same level of protection as those in other parts of the UK.

The Commission welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to consult further on this issue to help ensure that Scotland is able to continue to improve the protection of human rights for all of the people in Scotland.