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Committee against Torture reviews the report of the United Kingdom

Committee against Torture 

8 May 2019

The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the sixth periodic report of the United Kingdom on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Paul Candler, Director of International and Rights Policy in the Ministry of Justice of the United Kingdom, introducing the report, stressed that the United Kingdom would remain a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and did not plan to repeal or reform the Human Rights Act in the aftermath of its departure from the European Union.  The United Kingdom’s obligations under the Convention reached across its three devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Mr. Candler outlined work done to address domestic violence and modern slavery for which the Government had pledged increased funding of 100 million pounds through 2020 to tackle violence against women and girls, including protecting funding to Rape Support Centres.  Work on this area from the devolved administrations included the Welsh Government’s Live Fear Free website and helpline and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland’s delivery of a wide range of initiatives under its seven-year domestic and sexual violence strategy.  The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 consolidated criminal laws against human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland.  The Act gave police and prosecutors greater power to detect and prosecute those responsible and improve protection for victims.  The United Kingdom continued to stand up for a rules-based international system and for international law and as a strong advocate of the Human Rights Council and mechanisms at its disposal, it was seeking re-election for the 2021-2023 term.

The Committee Experts remarked that the United Kingdom had not transposed all the Convention’s provisions in its domestic legislation and were concerned that the general terms in which the Criminal Justice Act 1988 had been drafted could allow an application contrary to the absolute prohibition of torture.  No one had been prosecuted for acts of torture during the reporting period, they remarked and asked how many of the 1,070 alleged incidents of child sexual abuse that had taken place in custodial estates in England and Wales between 2009 and 2017 had been made the subject of criminal investigations.  The Committee was concerned that deficiencies in the approach to preventing torture and ill-treatment at home had led it to adopt policies that had caused it to fail to prevent torture beyond its territories in situations in which its personnel exercised some degree of control.  Furthermore, the Committee was particularly concerned about the United Kingdom’s response to allegations of torture and ill-treatment in Northern Ireland.  While recognizing that the Government may need to sometimes classify information, the Experts were concerned that the restrictions imposed by the Justice and Security Act 2013 might amount to granting a blank check to the State and thus impede greater scrutiny of human rights violations.  Furthermore, according to independent reports, 17,501 persons had been held for questioning under the anti-terrorism laws despite the absence of suspicion of infractions.  The age of criminal responsibility in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland was not in line with international standards, as numerous international bodies had pointed out.

Mr. Candler said in his concluding remarks that the delegation had striven to explain the United Kingdom’s approach to the many areas covered by the Convention, including in the areas which seemed to be of particular interest to the Committee, such as the impact of Brexit on the United Kingdom’s human rights framework, immigration and asylum issues, Northern Ireland legacy issues, as well as the conditions of custody and treatment of those in custody, particularly youth and women.

Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their exhaustive replies to most of the Committee’s questions and encouraged the United Kingdom to submit a plan for the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations.

The delegation of the United Kingdom consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Government Legal Department, Department of Health and Social Care, Northern Ireland Office, Department of Justice Northern Ireland, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as representatives of the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of the United Kingdom at the end of its sixty-sixth session on 17 May.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will resume in public at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 10 May, to meet with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

Report

The Committee had before it the sixth periodic report of the United Kingdom (CAT/C/GBR/6).

Presentation of the Report

PAUL CANDLER, Director of International and Rights Policy in the Ministry of Justice of the United Kingdom, acknowledged the hard work of all the members of civil society and the independent United Kingdom National Prevention Mechanism and National Human Rights Institutions who put forward reports to the Committee.  He thanked the Committee for inviting the delegation and said that he looked forward to hearing its views and responding to its questions.

The Government consistently and unreservedly condemned torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including through working closely with international partners, such as the United Nations.  The United Kingdom had a long-standing tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties were protected domestically, and of fulfilling its international rights obligations.  The concept of rights went back a long way, to the Magna Carta in 1215, and rights had evolved across the nation through common law and statute.  While acknowledging that many of the civil society organizations represented at the meeting had expressed concerns about the impact of Brexit on the United Kingdom’s human rights framework, he stressed that the decision to leave the European Union did not change the fact that the recognition and protection of rights were fundamental values for the United Kingdom.  The Government was clear that its future relations with the European Union should be underpinned by their shared values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The Government had reaffirmed its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights and would remain a party to it after Brexit.  The Secretary of State for Justice had reiterated in February that the Government had no plans to repeal or reform the Human Rights Act in the aftermath of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.  The United Kingdom’s obligations under the Convention reached across its three devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 

On the protection of women and girls and efforts to tackle modern slavery, he outlined work done by the Government to address domestic violence and modern slavery.  The United Kingdom had pledged increased funding of 100 million pounds through 2020 to tackle violence against women and girls, including protecting funding to Rape Support Centres.  It was also doing more to tackle modern slavery, which included sexual exploitation, compulsory labour and human trafficking.  Work on this area from the devolved administrations included the Welsh Government’s Live Fear Free website and helpline and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland’s delivery of a wide range of initiatives under its seven-year domestic and sexual violence strategy.  The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 consolidated strengthened criminal laws against human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland.  The Act gave police and prosecutors greater power to detect and prosecute those responsible and improve protection for victims.

The United Kingdom’s delegation approached this session with a spirit of openness and receptiveness to challenges.  The United Kingdom remained an advocate of the United Nations treaty body mechanism, and was committed to it.  The Government continued to stand up for a rules-based international system and for international law.  The United Kingdom was a strong advocate of the Human Rights Council and mechanisms at its disposal to strengthen human rights protection globally.  That was why the United Kingdom was seeking re-election to the Human Rights Council for the 2021-2023 term.

Questions by Committee Experts

FELICE GAER, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, said it was always a special occasion when periodic reports were reviewed.  She said the vibrant organizations that had submitted independent briefing reports to the Committee had pointed out the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the referendum on the United Kingdom’s exiting the European Union on the implementation of the Convention against Torture.  Would this lead to regression or reinforcement of the legal protections set forth therein and to implementing the obligations of the State party under the Convention?  She also asked for clarification about the members of the delegations that represented and could speak for the overseas territories and Crown dependencies.

The Committee had not received the statistics on torture and acts of ill-treatment that it had requested, Ms. Gaer said.  The Committee understood that the Government had not prosecuted anyone for torture during the reporting period.  Was it really true that there had been no cases of complaints of conduct potentially amounting to torture for that period?  She also asked the delegation to provide more information about the number and type of complaints it had received in connection with the allegations from the Medway Centre, where staff were apparently videotaped punching, choking and slapping children.  Could the delegation provide more data on the outcome of the official investigation as well as information on the kind of disciplinary sanctions that were applied and any other action taken by the State party? 

Citing a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Rapporteur asked how many of the 1,070 alleged incidents of child sexual abuse that had taken place in custodial estates in England and Wales between 2009 and 2017 had been made the subject of criminal investigations.  What was the State party doing to ensure that allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation were detected, investigated and prosecuted?  On inter-prisoner violence, she expressed disappointment about the State’s failure to provide information about the number of complaints implicating its personnel and their outcome.  The Committee had been told that an increase of violence and overall decline in safety in prisons had happened, while there had been steep cuts in prison service staffing and resources.  Did the State recruit 2,500 additional staff by the end of 2018, as it had planned?

The Co-Rapporteur asked whether the Government was considering measures to improve the training of those responsible for making the statelessness determination; make it mandatory for people to be referred to the determination procedure as soon as they were detained; and provide applicants with legal aid and a right to appeal negative decisions?  Taking into account the unique structure of the United Kingdom’s National Preventive Mechanism, which was comprised of 21 bodies, was the Government considering significantly increasing its Secretariat’s budget?  Turning to violence against women, Ms. Gaer requested additional data on the Government’s record on prosecuting perpetrators and information on its plan to ensure the effective implementation of the Violence against Women and Girls Strategy, in a way that notably involved victims’ groups.  On human trafficking, she asked the delegation to explain why the Government was not collecting data about the number of complaints or investigations related to modern slavery, including human trafficking.  What measures did the Government intend to take to improve law enforcement’s ability to punish perpetrators of trafficking?  

The Co-Rapporteur said the Committee was concerned that deficiencies in the United Kingdom’s approach to preventing torture and ill-treatment at home had led it to adopt policies that had caused it to fail to prevent torture beyond its territories in situations in which its personnel exercised some degree of control.  Was the Government considering, for instance, collecting and reporting data on the number of asylum claims involving allegations of past torture and their outcome, disaggregated by country of origin?  Furthermore, the Committee was particularly concerned about the United Kingdom’s response to allegations of torture and ill-treatment in Northern Ireland.  Could the Government provide assurances that it remained committed to ensuring accountability for violations of the Convention committed during the Troubles?  Could it confirm that it would not seek to interfere with the decision of the Public Prosecution Service or enact an amnesty or otherwise extinguish criminal liability for perpetrators of such violence?  Was it considering additional measures to prevent the imposition of suffering in Northern Ireland that amounted to ill-treatment of women seeking termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal impairment, rape and incest?

CLAUDE HELLER ROUASSANT, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, welcomed the delegation and thanked them for the presentation of the report.  He noted that the United Kingdom had not transposed all the Convention’s provisions in its domestic legislation, which would have allowed citizens to invoke them before courts.  It was concerning that provisions of the 1988 law on criminal justice had been drafted in general terms that could allow an application contrary to the absolute prohibition of torture.  This provision contravened article 2 of the Convention, which stated that exceptional circumstances—such as war, political instability or any other public emergency—may not be invoked to justify torture.  He asked the delegation to comment on these facts.  Did the Government have any plans to amend the 1988 law on criminal justice to include the absolute prohibition of torture?

The Co-Rapporteur echoed concerns that the 1988 law would be replaced by a British Bill of Rights after Brexit, a change which could lead to a lesser protection of human rights, including the prohibition of torture.  In considering the territorial application of human rights law, the United Kingdom should accept that its obligations under international law extended to operations conducted overseas by British forces, as well as foreign nationals that were de facto under its jurisdiction.  While recognizing that the Government may need to sometimes classify information, civil society organizations had expressed concerns about restrictions imposed by the 2013 Justice and Security Law.  These restrictions may amount to granting a blank check to the State and thus impede greater scrutiny of human rights violations.  Could the delegation comment on this issue?

On mutual judicial assistance treaties, he asked the delegation for updated information on requests made or received by the United Kingdom that were related to torture.  The Co-Rapporteur pointed out that the report stated that broad and varied training on human rights was offered to law enforcement officials.  He asked which entities were responsible for elaborating these training programmes on human rights.  How and how often were these training programmes evaluated?  Regarding the use of Taser guns, he underlined that British doctors had warned about the serious health risks they posed.  In that regard, what had been the impact of the data collection and reporting process mentioned in the report?  Had there been a greater number of complaints against the police since then?

Mr. Heller Rouassant requested information on the number of cases detected under the 2016 updated regulations that required that doctors report the cases of detainees that might have been subjected to torture.  He also asked whether the Government was contemplating alternative measures to deprivation of liberty in addressing the overcrowding of prisons.  The age of criminal responsibility in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland was not in line with international standards, as numerous international bodies had pointed out, he stated.  Could the delegation comment on this?  For minors under the age of criminal responsibility, was a form of judicial authorization necessary for them to be detained?  Did they have access to legal representation free of charge?

The generalized and systematic detention of migrants in the United Kingdom was a source of preoccupation for the Committee, said the Co-Rapporteur.  It should only be a last resort.  It was necessary to put in place an instrument to collect information and identify vulnerable persons and those at risk, as well as those with psychological or physical weaknesses, who should be released.  He asked the delegation to provide information on deaths of migrants or asylum seekers in detention centres.  He drew the delegation’s attention to the Windrush scandal, which related to the years of ill-treatment suffered by people from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth at the hand of immigration officials and other official bodies in the United Kingdom.  The ill treatments included detention and deprivation of access to healthcare services and accommodation.  Was the Government contemplating the creation of a reparation scheme?

Since 2017, 17,501 persons had been held for questioning under British anti-terrorism laws despite the absence of suspicion of infractions, according to Amnesty International.  Had the application of anti-terrorism legislation been challenged before British courts?

Other Experts noted the absence of references to the Convention in military personnel training manuals.  Shouldn’t the Convention be explicitly cited in these manuals?  What kind of rehabilitation and psychosocial support did victims of torture receive if they were migrants or asylum seekers located in the United Kingdom, including in detention centres, they asked?  The Committee felt that torture victims that were asylum seekers should be identified as soon as possible, to avoid detention when it was counterproductive from a medical point of view.  What did the State party intend to do to identify such persons effectively and reliably at an early stage?  Committee Experts also enquired about the people who could allow the continued detention of vulnerable persons by overriding medical certificates. 

On intersex persons, the Committee was concerned that they were subjected to medical procedures that may result in suffering potentially comparable to ill-treatment.  Could the delegation comment on the possibility of adopting a “watchful waiting” approach rather than imposing irreversible surgical treatment?  

Experts also requested more information on the use of force against children who were passively resisting, by refusing to go to bed for instance, in institutions like the Medway Centre.

FELICE GAER, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, said there had been reports that asylum seekers’ right of appeal was removed when they were nationals of a country included on a list of safe countries.  Could the delegation confirm this was true?  If so, was the Government considering how often it reviewed this list?  More specifically, was it reconsidering Ukraine’s designation as a safe country of origin?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised on the United Kingdom’s human rights framework, the delegation reiterated the commitment to protecting and respecting human rights and stressed that the United Kingdom’s legal framework was solid and offered clear protections and guarantees.  The United Kingdom would remain a party to the European Convention for Human Rights even after it left the European Union, and there were no plans to repeal, amend, or replace the Human Rights Act.  Leaving the European Union would not affect the United Kingdom’s obligations under the European Convention for Human Rights. 

The Criminal Justice Act 1988 was consistent with the obligations imposed by the Convention against Torture.  The United Kingdom maintained a dualist approach to international law, which meant that the obligations must be given effect in domestic law through legislation.  The courts would first refer to domestic law, and would and did refer to international conventions if there was ambiguity in domestic law.  As far as the Convention against Torture was concerned, there was a combination of policies and legislation to give effect to the Convention, while the text itself was not incorporated into the law.

The national prevention mechanism was not set in statute and the United Kingdom would continue to discuss possible legislative options.  There were sufficient guarantees in place to ensure that the independence of the national prevention mechanism was not compromised.

Formal political talks to restore the Northern Ireland executive had started on 7 May, said the delegation, reaffirming the responsibility of the United Kingdom’s Government towards Northern Ireland.  The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 had been passed to provide the Northern Ireland civil services with the clarity and certainty to provide services in the absence of the executive.  The aim of the political talks was to quickly re-establish the full operation of the executive function provided for under the Belfast Agreement 1998.

The United Kingdom’s Government was committed to finding the best ways to support the people in Northern Ireland to address the impact of the Troubles and enable the communities to move forward, including through investigations and prosecutions.  The delegation stressed that the United Kingdom’s Government did not support proposals offering amnesty or exception from prosecution.  The funding of the six-year plan to address the outstanding legacy issues had been approved in March 2019.  The Police Service of Northern Ireland was fully committed to providing disclosure to the Police Ombudsman in line with the statutory obligations. 

The United Kingdom’s Government was committed to ending the use of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland when safe and compatible with the need of justice, and to keep its use under regular review.  The extension of the use of non-jury trials had been recently extended for another two years, said the delegation and stressed that less than two per cent of all Crown cases were non-jury trials.  The “Tackling the Paramilitaries Programme” was in place and ran in parallel with activities of multi-agency hubs which were working to address the needs of young people in communities in Northern Ireland.

The Closed Material Procedure was provided for by the Justice and Security Act 2013, which contained strong judicial safeguards, and the regular use of the procedure was regularly monitored.  There had been three trials under universal jurisdiction, one ongoing, one conviction in 2005, and one acquittal in 2016.  The War Crimes Team (SO15) was responsible for investigations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crimes of genocide, and the Crown Prosecution was responsible for the prosecution of such crimes.

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team had been closed in 2017 and remaining allegations had been transferred to the Service Police, which published quarterly statistics on the progress in the cases.  As of 31 December 2018, the Service Police had closed 1,127 of the over 2,000 allegations transferred to it, and there were 90 full and 18 limited investigations ongoing.  In November 2018, the Government had issued the response to the Report on Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition.  Both documents were available publicly.  The United Kingdom’s Government continued to give serious consideration to detainee issues.  The Iraq Fatality Investigations, a form of judicial inquiry, was in place and was chaired by a retired High Court judge.

As far as redress to victims of torture was concerned, the delegation said that there was no specific programme which provided redress to victims of torture committed by other sovereign nations.  All individuals who claimed the complicity of the United Kingdom in acts of torture could submit a civil damages claim against the Government, based on the domestic legislation and the European Convention for Human Rights.  The United Kingdom had contributed £25,000 to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture in the 2018-2019 funding cycle.

As far as arms exports to Saudi Arabia were concerned, the delegation stressed that the United Kingdom took its arms exports seriously and had one of the most robust arms export regimes in the world.  Arms exports were only possible based on a licence issued by the Secretary of State for International Trade under the Consolidated Criteria.  The assessment was implemented on a case by case basis, during which all available information, including reports by non-governmental organizations, was considered.  The United Kingdom did not export equipment where it assessed there was a clear risk that it might be used for internal repression, or would provoke or prolong conflict within a country, or where the United Kingdom assessed there was a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the items aggressively against another country.  The United Kingdom was providing training for the Libyan Coast Guard with the aim of increasing their capacity to secure borders in a human rights compatible way, and support search and rescue.  The training emphasized that human rights violations were unacceptable.  The United Kingdom would keep this training programme under continued review.  

Responding to questions asked about the conditions in prisons, the delegation said that in England and Wales, there was a commitment to build an additional 10,000 prison places, which in combination with the ongoing reconfiguring of the existing estate and the recruitment of 2,500 extra prison guards, would improve the conditions of detention and increase educational, training, and rehabilitative outcomes.  The creation of a new corruption unit had been announced on 5 May 2019.  In 2018, there had been 317 deaths in custody, including four women.  All deaths were under the purview of the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody, while an independent advisory panel worked to circulate official regulations.

In Scotland, reducing the prison population was a top priority.  The Scottish Government and the Prison Service were working together to relieve the pressure on prison estates and had undertaken a number of measures which were seeing a notable success, such as the lowest number of young offenders in prison in the past 19 years.  A substantive Management of Offenders Bill was currently going through Parliament, as was the bill to support the judiciary in applying non-custodial sentences.  Scotland knew that community sentences were more effective than short-term custodial sentences and would shortly be introducing legislation on the matter.

The Hate Crime Action Plan 2016 covered five strands of hate crime that the United Kingdom’s Government recognized: race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and disability.  The plan contained actions in five key areas: preventing hate crime by challenging beliefs and attitudes, responding to hate crimes, increasing the reporting, improving support for victims, and building the understanding of hate crimes.  The plan had been refreshed in 2018, and now included a number of actions to improve the police training on hate crime, including on the identification of victims.

The Windrush Compensation Scheme had been set up for those who had suffered a loss of employment, housing, or education because they could not demonstrate a lawful right to live in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom did not seek to return anyone who demanded protection in the United Kingdom if there was a risk of torture or persecution.  During the period October 2017 to October 2018, a total of 36,605 asylum requests had been received, in addition to over 8,500 other requests for protection.  Asylum decision makers assessed each request individually, including specific protection needs; they received extensive training on establishing an asylum claim and must follow all official policies.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 had been recently reviewed independently in order to identify where the legislation was working well and where improvements should be made.  The review findings and recommendations would be delivered to the Government in a few weeks’ time, which would be taken seriously.  The national referral mechanism was currently being strengthened and now had a new single competent authority that allowed it to make quicker decisions.  The Government was committed to ensure that the United Kingdom remained a world leader in the fight against modern slavery.  The Child Trafficking Fund had been set up in 2016 to provide victim support and recovery and reduce vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation. 

As far as the definition of trafficking in persons and slavery was concerned, the delegation stressed that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 had been explicitly drafted to ensure the United Kingdom’s compliance with its obligations under the Palermo Protocol and to ensure that there were no gaps in domestic legislation that would allow perpetrators to escape prosecution.  The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner was working with courts to ensure that judges were not applying a too narrow definition of trafficking in persons.

Criminal responsibility at the age of 10 allowed the Government to have the needed flexibility with children who offended and to intervene and start working with children as soon as possible.  This provision reflected the requirements of the justice system in England and Wales.  Very few of the young children who offended received custodial sentences, which could only be given by a judge.  In 2018, only 17 per cent of the offending children were aged 10 to 14 and 82 per cent of the sentences resulted in community service.  The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill had been passed by the Scottish Parliament on 7 May.  The bill would raise the age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 years of age.

The United Kingdom’s Government recognized the sensitivity of the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland and the strongly held positions on both sides of the debate.  It was the responsibility of devolved administrations to ensure that their legislation was compatible with international obligations and standards.

The United Kingdom had taken a number of steps to strengthen the legislative framework to protect women and girls from violence, including domestic violence and stalking, while female genital mutilation and forced marriages had been criminalized.  Since 2010, the number of prosecutions for violence against women and girls had increased by 23 per cent and the number of sentences by 30 per cent.  New mandatory reporting duty on female genital mutilation had been introduced and £100 million in funding to tackle violence against women and girls had been allocated.  In 2015, Wales had introduced legislation, a strategy and an action plan on the protection of women and girls against violence. 

Questions by Committee Experts

FELICE GAER, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, asked the delegation about the applicability of the Convention in the overseas territories and whether there was a plan for the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.  Would civil society organizations and national human rights institutions be involved in the implementation and how?  Ms. Gaer asked the delegation to outline the efforts to further investigate and establish accountability for the 1,070 alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in custodial care between 2009 and 2017 as identified by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, as well as put in place an effective complaints system that would be accessible to children in detention.

The discovery of historic documents in 2016 which pointed to acts of torture committed by the United Kingdom’s military in the 1970s in Northern Ireland were very disturbing.  What measures was the United Kingdom’s Government taking to ensure that allegations of torture committed during the conflict were subject to an effective investigation?  Were records of investigations accessible to victims?  The Co-Rapporteur requested a more detailed explanation of how the United Kingdom was addressing the abuse and mistreatment in residential institutions in Northern Ireland, and whether the Government intended to undertake a comprehensive review of the human rights situation in Northern Ireland that would include the legacy of the conflict and the abuse in institutions such as mother and baby homes and the Magdalene laundries.

CLAUDE HELLER ROUASSANT, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, reiterated concern about the long time it took to decide on asylum cases over and beyond the six months’ timeframe laid out by the law.  The Committee took note of the United Kingdom’s position on minimum age of criminal responsibility and raised concern that the laws in England, Wales, and Scotland were not in line with international standards in this domain.  In August 2018, the Council of Europe had urged the United Kingdom to start legal proceedings on legal renditions, the Co-Rapporteur noted, and asked whether the United Kingdom was ready to accept an independent investigation into the involvement of the British armed forces in acts of torture and ill treatment committed in Iraq since 2001, and so close a controversial chapter in the country’s history?

Other Experts referred again to the Report on Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition and in this context stressed that the Government had the responsibility to investigate claims of acts of torture that could be attributed to the Intelligence Service of the United Kingdom and provide reparation to victims.  The Committee remained concerned about the use of restraints and segregation of children in young offenders’ institutions.

JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, commended the United Kingdom’s commitment to identifying and protecting victims of modern slavery and violence against women and girls, and the numerous measures and funds allocated to support that commitment, and regretted that the same was not being done for victims of torture, to identify them and treat them comprehensively. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the application of the Convention was extended to all overseas territories which had permanent populations and that the governments of the overseas territories were responsible for the implementation.  The Ministry of Justice reached out to each overseas territory to establish that they had the capacity to effectively implement the provisions.  The delegation stressed that the prevention of torture remained among key priorities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and that the torture prevention strategy continued to operate.

The United Kingdom would continue to give the issue of detainee mistreatment and rendition serious consideration, including whether there should be further judge-led inquiries into the matter.  The Government was taking the allegations of child abuse, including sexual abuse in youth homes very seriously, and recognized the need for the fundamental reform of youth custody to ensure the safety and rehabilitation of young people.  Among the steps already taken was strengthening of safeguards, specialist training for staff, and the increase in the number of frontline youth workers by one third compared to 2013.

All military personnel received training, which included international humanitarian law, as well as the applicability of the law of armed conflict, protection of persons and places, and the enforcement of the law of armed conflict.  Similar training was provided to the private security contractors.

Concluding Remarks

PAUL CANDLER, Director of International and Rights Policy in the Ministry of Justice of the United Kingdom, in conclusion said that the delegation had striven to explain the United Kingdom’s approach to the many areas covered by the Convention, including in the areas which seemed to be of particular interest to the Committee.  Those included the impact of Brexit on the United Kingdom’s human rights framework, immigration and asylum issues, Northern Ireland legacy issues, as well as the conditions of custody and treatment of those in custody, particularly youth and women.

JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their exhaustive replies to most of the Committee’ questions.  Among its concluding observations, the Committee would select three urgent recommendations for follow up, on which the State party would need to report within a year.  All States parties were encouraged to also submit a plan for the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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