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Human Rights Body reports on impact of Pandemic

The UK’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) – which scrutinises all state detention in the UK - has today published its 12th Annual Report. This year’s report focuses on the challenges and impacts of the COVID pandemic on people deprived of their liberty in the UK, as well as on inspection and monitoring bodies.

The NPM was established in 2009 by the UK Government to meet its obligations under the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The NPM’s 21 independent bodies have powers to visit and report on all places of detention across the UK including prisons, police custody, places of immigration detention, secure settings for children and young adults, and mental health settings. Through regular, independent monitoring of places of detention, the NPM plays a key role in preventing ill-treatment in detention.

During this exceptionally difficult period, the UK’s 21 bodies have worked hard to ensure that independent detention monitoring continued, with innovative approaches adopted to minimise risk. This included undertaking shorter visits and using confidential phone hotlines and video to enable direct remote contact with people in detention when it was impossible or unsafe to visit.

The report outlines the impact of the severe restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the virus, which were unprecedented, widespread and lengthy. The following key themes emerged:

  • Prolonged time in cells had a cumulative impact on prisoners’ mental health, with rises in mental health referrals and sharp increases in self-harm in the women’s estate.
  • Patients detained in hospital faced severe delays before being moved to less secure facilities or placements in the community.
  • Some quarantining, isolating or shielding prisoners were effectively held in solitary confinement. For example, some had only one and a half hours per week out of their cells to shower, make phone calls or spend time in the open air.
  • Almost all detainees in long-term detention settings faced issues in maintaining contact with their families as in-person social visits were suspended. But many establishments successfully implemented virtual alternatives.
  • The right to legal representation for some detainees was not always available or applied consistently in police and court custody, mental health detention and in some prisons.
  • Good practice was observed in secure children’s homes, where after the initial period of the pandemic, children were engaged in an almost normal routine, including full-time education. However, this was not the case for children in prison, where some spent extremely limited amounts of time out of cell.

John Wadham, Chair of the NPM, said:

“Detention authorities made significant efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19; however, the long-term impact of these measures on the health and wellbeing of those detained cannot be underestimated. It is vital that the government takes the necessary steps to properly analyse and address reported issues by independent NPM bodies and ensure that measures are in place to address these important concerns”.

Notes to Editors:

  1. The NPM annual report this year focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on both the approach to monitoring in detention by inspectors and monitors, as well as on people in detention. It updates and builds on information provided in the NPM factsheet, Preventing ill-treatment in the context of COVID-19 , and the NPM July 2020 submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into COVID-19
  2. A copy of the Annual Report can be found on the NPM website:
  3. The NPM Annual Report was laid before Parliament by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Monitoring places of detention during COVID-19 – 12th Annual Report of the UK’s National Preventative Mechanism 2020-21 (
  4. The NPM was established in March 2009 under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). A United Nations treaty, OPCAT was ratified by the UK in 2003. OPCAT requires the UK to have in place a ‘national preventive mechanism’ to visit all places of detention and monitor the treatment of and conditions for detainees.
  5. The NPM consists of 21 independent bodies throughout the UK, which have powers to regularly inspect or monitor places of detention and share the aim of preventing ill-treatment of anyone deprived of their liberty. It is coordinated by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
  6. The 21 bodies who make up the NPM are:
    England and Wales
    Care Inspectorate Wales
    Care Quality Commission
    The Children’s Commissioner for England
    Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons
    Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services
    Healthcare Inspectorate Wales
    Independent Monitoring Boards
    Independent Custody Visiting Association
    Lay Observers
    Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Service and Skills)
    Northern Ireland
    Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland
    Independent Monitoring Boards (Northern Ireland)
    Northern Ireland Policing Board Independent Custody Visiting Scheme
    The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority
    Care Inspectorate
    Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland
    Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland
    Independent Custody Visiting Scotland
    Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland
    Scottish Human Rights Commission
    United Kingdom
    Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation
  7. Please contact Lucy Gregg on 07811734512 or if you would like more information.