The UK’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) 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.
The NPM was set up to ensure regular visits to places of detention in order to prevent torture and other ill-treatment, as required by OPCAT. OPCAT recognises that people in detention are particularly vulnerable and requires States to set up a national level body that can support efforts to prevent their ill treatment. The NPM must have, as a minimum, the powers to:
- regularly examine the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in all places of detention under the UK’s jurisdiction and control;
- make recommendations to relevant authorities with the aim of improving the treatment and conditions of persons deprived of their liberty;
- submit proposals and observations on existing or draft legislation
Designating the NPM
The 21 members of the NPM are organisations that have all been officially designated by the UK government to be part of the UK’s NPM. OPCAT states that the power of designating members to the NPM is a power of the State Party. The criteria for NPMs is set out in Article 19 of OPCAT. The key criteria for NPM members is the power to enter places of detention without notice (Article 20). The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture’s Guidelines on National Preventive Mechanisms also make this clear.
On 31 March 2009 in a written ministerial statement to Parliament, the UK government designated 18 bodies that already had these powers to form its NPM. By designating these multiple, existing bodies to form the NPM, the UK government acknowledged that their existing powers were compatible with those required under OPCAT.
On 3 December 2013, three new designations to the NPM were made, one of which reflected the merger of one of the existing NPM members. On 12 January 2017 the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation was designated to the NPM in view of his role monitoring the conditions of detention of persons detained for more than 48 hours under s.1 of the Terrorism Act 2000, bringing the membership to 21 individual bodies.
The UK government designated HM Inspectorate of Prisons (England and Wales) to coordinate the NPM.
The NPM publishes an annual report of its work which is presented to Parliament by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
Relationship with the United Nations
The UK NPM receives technical assistance from the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) and the UK government must account for the NPM’s ability to perform its functions to the SPT and other UN bodies.