Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT)

The OPCAT is a supplementary treaty to the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT).  The UK ratified (agreed to follow) the OPCAT in 2006.

The OPCAT established the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT). The primary aim of the SPT, which consists of 25 independent and impartial experts, is to prevent torture and ill-treatment. The SPT visits places where people are deprived of their liberty in order to examine conditions of detention. It also helps States to set up national bodies to monitor places of detention and prevent torture and ill-treatment. These bodies are known as National Preventive Mechanisms.

By ratifying the OPCAT, the UK agrees to:

  • Allow members of the SPT to visit places where people are arrested, imprisoned or detained – such as police stations, prisons (military and civilian), immigration detention centres, and mental health and social care institutions
  • Establish a National Preventive Mechanism to independently monitor the detention and imprisonment of people in the UK

The UK set up a National Preventive Mechanism in 2009.

How does the SPT conduct its monitoring?

The SPT gathers information by conducting country visits. During these visits, members of the SPT have unrestricted access to meet with anyone who can provide relevant information about conditions of detention, including:

  • People who are deprived of their liberty
  • Government officials
  • Members of the National Preventive Mechanism
  • Representatives of national human rights institutions
  • Non-governmental organisations
  • Custodial staff
  • Lawyers
  • Doctors
  • Family members of detainees

At the end of its visit, the SPT produces two reports containing observations and recommendations. One report is for the UK Government and the other for the National Preventive Mechanism.  Both reports are confidential, but the UK Government and the National Preventive Mechanism may choose to publish them.

The UK Government then has six months to provide a written response to the SPT, outlining its progress in implementing the recommendations. The UK Government’s response to the SPT is confidential, although the UK Government may choose to publish its report.

If the UK Government fails to co-operate during the SPT visit, or fails to implement the SPT’s recommendations, the SPT can make its report public, or request that the Committee against Torture make a public statement.

The UK’s National Preventive Mechanism supports the UK Government by providing advice on how to comply with the SPT’s recommendations.

Useful resources

  • A list of all SPT visits to the UK can be found here.
  • The first SPT visit to the UK took place in September 2019. Following this, the SPT produced two reports – one for the UK Government and one for the National Preventive Mechanism.
    • The SPT’s report to the UK Government can be found here. The UK Government’s response to this can be found here, and the National Preventive Mechanism’s response can be found here.
    • The SPT’s report to the National Preventive Mechanism can be found here. The National Preventive Mechanism’s response to this can be found here.
  • The SPT’s Annual Reports can be found here.
  • The annual reports of the UK’s National Preventive Mechanism can be found here.
Last updated on 21/07/2021