On 18 December 2002, the third committee of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the draft optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, OP-CAT, with Ireland's support. The EU has called upon all member states to sign and ratify the optional protocol. There are 21 signatory states to the optional protocol. The following EU member states are signatories to the optional protocol: Denmark; Sweden; and the United Kingdom.
The object of the protocol is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places of detention with a view to preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The international body is proposed to be a sub-committee of the UN Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The national bodies may consist of one or several bodies as national preventive mechanisms for the prevention of torture at the domestic level.
The question of whether to sign the optional protocol with a view to subsequent ratification is currently under consideration. My Department is reviewing national legislation to ascertain whether legislative changes would be required before signature and ratification of the optional protocol. It will be necessary to consult other Government Departments, including the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science, regarding arrangements for the inspection of institutions for which they are responsible in which persons may be detained without their consent.
With regard to monitoring of the prison system, it is already the subject of scrutiny by independent bodies, including the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, CPT, which operates under the aegis of the Council of Europe. The CPT was established under the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in 1987. Ireland was the third country to ratify the convention, which is now ratified by 40 European States. The committee is composed of lawyers, medical doctors, prison experts, parliamentarians, etc., from the member states and carries out its task by periodic andad hoc visits. During these visits, the committee has the right of unimpeded access at any time of the day or night to any place where persons are detained, whether it be a prison, a Garda station or a mental hospital, and are entitled to speak in private to any detained person. The CPT visited Ireland for inspection purposes in May of 2002 and its report and the Government's response to it was published on 18 September 2003. The report and the Government's response are available on the Council of Europe's website, www.coe.cpt.int. Printed copies of the report and the Government's response have been laid before the Houses of Oireachtas.
In addition, the Government appointed in 2002 an Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Mr Justice Dermot Kinlen, whose terms of reference include inspecting and reporting on prisons and other places of detention that are administered by the Irish Prison Service on behalf of my Department. Issues that he has regard to include: the attitude of staff and inmates; health, safety and well-being of prisoners; the conditions of the buildings; questions of humanity and propriety; and any general pattern which may indicate possible inadequacies in the management of the prison. The inspector has highlighted a number of concerns in his reports to me. These reports have been made available to both Houses and to the general public.
The prison visiting committees also report to me on an annual basis and their reports are also available on request. All prisoners have access to the prison visiting committee, to the prison chaplain, to the prison doctor and to the courts. A prisoner may also directly contact the European Court of Human Rights and the CPT. I am satisfied that there is adequate provision to monitor prison conditions here in an open and transparent manner.