19th November 2015, 14:01
Published by GBC News
The Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe has recommended the authorities completely review the provision of healthcare at Windmill Hill Prison, an area which it claims suffers from a number of structural deficiencies. It also finds the prison unsuitable to accommodate juveniles.
The Committee has released the findings of an investigation carried out during its first ever visit to the Rock, this time last year. Gibraltar has a commitment to adhere to the recommendations, with the Committee normally organising a follow-up visit to ensure this is the case. It looked at the treatment of detainees and the conditions of detention at several loctions across the Rock. These included New Mole House, the Prison and the KGV Hospital.
The Committee for the Prevention of Torture is part of the Council of Europe, a 47 member international organisation, separate from the EU, which oversees the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Its report is nothing if not thorough, running into 43 pages, with the Gibraltar Government replying in 14, picking up the points, explaining its position and stating what it is looking at enshrining in law.
The Committee found that most people deprived of their liberty by the police were treated in a correct manner. Although not substantiated, it received allegations of excessive use of force by police officers at the time of apprehension, and of rough treatment during subsequent questioning. The material conditions of the custody cells in New Mole House were found to be generally of a good standard, but the report points out a lack of access to natural light in the cells, no privacy from the in-cell video surveillance and no access to meaningful outside exercise for persons held longer than 24 hours. It highlights a lack of legal aid, which it says meant that many detained persons did not have effective access to a lawyer prior to their first court hearing. In its reply the Government says this is something it is looking into, in conjunction with the Bar Council. It also found the system failing in terms of access to a doctor, with this, it says, filtered by the duty custody sergeant instead of granted on request and with this right guaranteed in law. It recommends that every effort be made to avoid the detention of mentally ill persons in New Mole House Police Station, and that police officers be provided with basic training in the care of the mentally ill.
On the Prison, the report highlights generally good relations between the staff and inmates at Windmill Hill Prison, although it states some tensions exist between inmates and there is no clear anti-bullying policy. Material conditions, it says, are generally satisfactory but it says a number of deficiencies require action and cells of less than 8 metres squared should not hold more than one prisoner. The CPT criticised the length of disciplinary punishments, where prisoners are confined to their cells alone for 23 hours a day for as long as six weeks with no stimulation. The report also finds Windmill Hill is not suitable to accommodate juveniles, pointing out that at the time of the visit, two juveniles were there: one of them 14 years old. It also recommends a review of the current arrangements for accommodating persons detained for immigration offences and an increase in the activities on offer generally and for female prisoners to enjoy the same access to these activities as their male counterparts, as well as activities in which men and woman can participate together.
On the King George V Mental Health Hospital, open at the time of the visit, the report state living conditions were generally very poor, but acknowledged the new premises would provide a radical improvement. It asks for a clear policy on documenting injuries and confirmation that psychiatrists in the new hospital are now based there permanantly. The Committee also asks for information on pending amendments to legislation and the envisaged timeframe that would authorise the use of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment’s military custody suite.