No detention facility should be exempt from OPCAT, say lawyers

30th Aug 2018

No type of detention facility should be exempt from independent inspections under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (OPCAT), the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has recommended in a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission. 

“This means that off-shore detention, police watch houses and aged care and secure mental health facilities will all be subject to the independent monitoring that is part of the implementation of OPCAT,” said Noor Blumer, National President, ALA.

“We have always supported the ratification of OPCAT because it does have the potential to lift the standard of care of detainees, whether they are convicted prisoners, asylum seekers or disabled or mentally ill residents of secure facilities.

“No facility should be excluded but there are some detainees that are at urgent risk of harm and therefore require immediate attention.

“It is absolutely critical that police watch houses are included because the first 24 hours of a person being taken into custody are usually the most critical in terms of allegations of police mistreatment and deaths in custody.

 “We believe special attention also needs to be given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, given their disproportionately high rates of incarceration. 

“Young people in detention are also vulnerable and need urgent focus. Recent examples of mistreatment of young people in detention facilities indicate the serious concerns regarding youth detention practices in Australia.  

“People with disability are also a priority given that they are overrepresented in all places of detention, including traditional sites such as prisons and forensic mental health centres as well as locked psychiatric wards, closed community-based residences for people with disability and compulsory care facilities.”

The ALA has also submitted that the legislation governing the implementation of OPCAT should state that the controlling body has complete financial and operational autonomy.

“The legislation needs to be clear that these inspections will be managed independent of government. This is essential for public and detainee confidence in the integrity of the implementation of OPCAT,” said Ms Blumer.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance is a national association of lawyers, academics, and other professionals dedicated to protecting and promoting justice, freedom and the rights of the individual.