UKNPM in Warsaw – Part 2


September 28, 2022

  • blogging
  • chief operating officer
  • human rights
  • SPT
  • vulnerability

So those of you who read my blogs, will no doubt have been eagerly anticipating part two of my blog on attending the 5th Annual Meeting on Torture Prevention for National Preventive Mechanisms and Civil Society Organisations in Warsaw (did I mention I went to Warsaw?) For those of you who missed the first instalment, focussing on use of force in particular, you can catch up here.

This follow up blog will take a brief look at two of the other topics covered during our stay and consider how they relate to the UKNPM and independent custody visiting in particular.

The APT Principles for Effective Interviewing for Investigations or Information Gathering (or Mendez Principles) were covered, which primarily deal with interviewing of people detained in police custody. Whilst ICVs do not monitor interview interactions, there were some points of note for custody more widely, in particular those of vulnerability of detainees. Of particular interest to me was the section and discussion on vulnerability. Domestically, PACE Code C states at 1.13(d):

 ‘vulnerable’ applies to any person who, because of a mental health condition or mental disorder’

PACE goes on to give some indicators of how vulnerability under this definition might be displayed and of course, those who are deemed vulnerable are afforded the additional safeguard of an Appropriate Adult (AA) in the UK (all children are deemed vulnerable due to their age).

There is no internationally agreed definition of vulnerability across practitioners in policing, however, the APT Principles have some extremely useful information when thinking of vulnerability. Although the materials pertain particularly to interviews, it struck me that these thoughts were relevant throughout the detainee’s time in custody. This is covered in the principles (linked above) from point 135, page 28 onwards for those of you would like to read in more detail.

The APT principles note that almost all of those being interviewed are in a state of vulnerability due to the unequal balance of power in their dealings with the authorities. Detainees are not able to leave and are, ‘thus wholly dependent on the authorities for the exercise and enjoyment of their human rights’. The principles comment as to the importance of interviewers being aware of the possible impact of this power imbalance and taking steps to mitigate against it.

This mitigation stems from accepting that vulnerability is a dynamic and evolving concept with situational features that may exacerbate how vulnerable a detainee is and the police responding to that changing vulnerability effectively.

In a wider custody context, rather than that specifically of interview, detainee vulnerability in a cell could be increased by recent interview, by a realisation of the charges against them, by the length of detention for someone with caring responsibilities, having had a previously difficult experience in custody and a whole host of other possible reasons.

We speak often of dynamic risk assessments being required for detainees experiencing thoughts of self-harm, but might it also be useful to think of dynamic vulnerability as well? Could custody ensure that staff are checking in with detainees specifically after any of the above events, proactively offering distraction items, establishing whether they would benefit from AA support and so on? There is undoubted good practice in this area, but I think ensuring that vulnerability is treated as a fluid concept throughout custody could increase individualised care for detainees.

Additionally, when thinking about this point at the conference, it struck me that there was a link between the APT comments on vulnerability and power imbalance to the work of Dr Layla Skinns, which notes that autonomy in custody is an integral part of detainee dignity. To give detainees autonomy where possible could perhaps be, at least in part, mitigation against the accepted power imbalance of detainees in custody? You can read more about detainee dignity, autonomy and Dr Skinns research here.

Also discussed at the conference the Istanbul Protocol, a manual which includes principles for the effective investigation and documentation of torture, in particular for medical professionals. Again, we were able to use some of these principles in drafting materials for ICVs. We have produced some hints and tips for discussions with detainees which have materials shared by the APT referenced. This is available on the ICV resources page of the ICVA website.

The APT website also has a huge raft of materials which ICVA will review to see what can be disseminated to our members, including, ‘monitoring police custody’ which you can read in full here.

All in all, over the thoughts on use of force discussed in the first blog, and thoughts on vulnerability and effectively interviewing detainees here, lots for us at ICVA to think about! I will continue weaving international learning into our resources for ICVs and considering our practice and training in a wider context. ICVs are part of an international community of monitors of detention, and it’s great to have these additional sources, networks, and shared experiences to allow ICVA to reflect on our own practice, and that of the ICVs.