The Minister for Justice has published draft legislation that would expand the role of the Inspector of Prisons, and allow Ireland to ratify an international agreement that sets standards for the treatment of people who are detained.
Helen McEntee said that she had received Government approval to publish the general scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill.
In order to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), Ireland must set up, or designate, National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) to act as national inspection bodies for places of detention in the State.
OPCAT is aimed at helping countries to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment in places of detention.
New role will cover garda stations
Under the bill, the existing statutory role of the Inspector of Prisons will be expanded to become a Chief Inspector of Places of Detention.
As the designated NPM, the chief inspector’s role will cover not just for prisons, but also relevant places of detention within the whole justice sector – including garda stations, court holding cells, and vehicles transporting persons between places of detention.
The bill will also strengthen and update the statutory basis in place for the Inspector of Prisons.
Minister McEntee said that the proposed legislation would help ensure that the detention conditions and wellbeing of people deprived of liberty were maintained in accordance with recognised international standards.
Role for IHREC
She added that the expansion of the role of the Inspector of Prisons would the existing structure and expertise to be retained, and applied to other places of detention in the justice sector.
The Department of Justice also stressed that the bill would enable other ministers to designate NPMs for places of detention outside the justice sector.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) will co-ordinate the activities of NPMs, and liaise with the UN’s oversight body, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT).