NPM Annual Conference 2024


May 2, 2024

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Last week I was very happy to attend the annual National Preventive Mechanism Conference in Cardiff. The United Kingdom National Preventive Mechanism (UKNPM) was established in March 2009 after the UK ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in December 2003. It is made up of 21 statutory bodies that independently monitor places of detention.

You can find out more about OPCAT and the UKNPM in ICVA’s briefing for schemes and ICVs here, or from the NPM website here.

The conference is an important opportunity for members to get together, for the NPM secretariat to share updates to their work, to hear from international and domestic colleagues on a variety of topics and for members to share workstreams. This year marked 15 years of the UKNPM, and former chairs (including Dame Anne Owers, current ICVA chair) were all invited to share their reflections of the UKNPM to date and their hopes for the future of the NPM. I attended primarily as ICVA’s CEO, but also as a member of the UKNPM steering group.

For this conference, a representative monitor from each organisation was also invited to attend, and I was delighted to be accompanied by Cynthia Rees, who is an ICV in South Wales, and it was wonderful to have the input of those with ‘boots on the ground’ as well as representatives of member organisations. As Scotland and Northern Ireland independent custody visiting schemes represent themselves at the NPM, we were delighted to catch up with Kirsty Scott, Scotland manager, meet an experienced Scottish ICV, Nazir Ahmad and see Matthew McGrath, scheme manager from Northern Ireland.

Cynthia shares some of her reflections on the conference here:

When Sherry Ralph and Tamara Lafferty (Scheme Manager for South Wales) invited me to attend the two-day NPM conference in Cardiff last week, I was delighted to attend, as I had no working knowledge of the NPM or how ICVs fit into the NPM. I was able to gain additional insight prior to attending with some background reading but felt the two-day conference would further allow me to fully grasp the complexity of so many organisations working diligently together. The fact that everyone is focused on preventing any form of ill treatment of the most vulnerable people who have their liberty taken away in the UK was heartening. It was also clear to see how integral organisational culture and practices are in promoting positive practices across nations and detention settings.

What struck home for me was that whilst vast improvements have clearly been made in inspecting and reporting of all settings, there are still challenges. Those include under funding and staffing cuts in detention settings, lack of community mental health teams and a lack of secure placements and support for both adult and children services across all 4 nations. We also heard of a lack of information sharing for those detaining individuals with mental health issues at the point of detention which often results in appropriate delays in accessing mental health care. Furthermore, there were reported issues with diversion schemes which have, and are, resulting in inappropriate prison detention and inappropriate segregation for those with severe mental health needs.

I thought all the speakers illustrated well, the “Culture in Detention”, and these sessions were very thought provoking, insightful and inspiring, highlighting the work that is being carried out in the UK and European Countries. 

It was interesting to listen to the experiences and insights of present and past chairs of the UKNPM, who gave their candid reflections on their time at NPM over the last 15 years. I met our Scottish and Northern Ireland custody visiting representatives, I worked in a focus group with individuals from Care Inspectorate Wales and Health Inspectorate Wales, which was really interesting to gain insight into other experiences. It struck me that there seemed to be commonality of themes, irrespective of detention setting.

I would like to think by attending the conference as a it allowed me to feedback from ‘the grass roots’ and in doing so, contributed to the debates and also, hopefully raised the profile of the vital role of ICVs throughout the UK.

I concurred with the summary and closing statements wholeheartedly of Wendy Sinclair-Gieben in that “the standard we walk past is the standard we accept”.

Massive thanks to Cynthia for her attendance and reflections above.

On day two of the conference, I presented on both the work we have undertaken with Sussex OPCC, policing and the NPM on the menopause in detention and also in a second session on campaigning for change, reflecting on ICVA’s work on menstrual care and anti-rip clothing.

Whilst there were many excellent speakers at the conference, I thought it might be interesting in particular to share some of the reflections of Therese Rytter, Vice President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). Therese shared her experiences and thoughts on various types of detention across Europe, but of particular interest to ICVAs membership, she made the points below regarding police custody:

  • There is a positive in the ‘trinity of rights’ across Europe, with more detainees in police custody having access to legal advice, medical attention and alerting someone to their location. Therese commented that member states of the Council of Europe (CoE) have made quite significant advances in this area.
  • Therese noted that, inspired by arrangements in the UK, the CPT have been promoting the use of dedicated custody officers and police custody spaces/suites to CoE members. Previously, states might not have had dedicated custody spaces, or dedicated custody staff with arresting and investigating officers carrying out custody functions in a range of detention spaces. Provision of dedicated resources makes sure there is a clear delineation of functions for police custody from those who arrest and investigate. Member states implementing specific custody roles and premises now include Georgia, Lithuania and the Netherlands.
  • Ill treatment by the police during interviews is still very commonplace. Collating evidence by the CPT, 1/3 of the members of the CoE have ill treatment, and/or torture as a feature in police interviews.
  • Therese noted that comparing CPT reports from the nineties to current reporting, overall ill treatment in police has decreased across member states.

It is incredibly positive that the UK is able to have good practice which is shared by the CPT to influence policing across Europe whilst we continue to work on domestic improvements to ensure that police custody in the UK is the very best it can be for detainee rights, entitlements and wellbeing.

We will be sharing information from the UKNPM as the secretariat follow up from the conference, so please do keep an eye on our X (Twitter) @CustodyVisiting and ICVA newsletters if you receive them.