Varuh ДЌlovekovih pravic

Monitoring the use of force in prisons to prevent torture discussed in Poland

On 24 and 25 August 2022, Deputy Ombudsman Ivan Šelih attended the fifth annual meeting of national preventive mechanisms (NPM) in the Polish capital of Warsaw entitled Monitoring the use of force and law enforcement equipment in the criminal justice system. The meeting was aimed at identifying and exchanging good practices and experiences of national preventive mechanisms (NPM) and non-governmental organisations regarding how to monitor the use of force and equipment in prisons to prevent torture. The participants also discussed identifying ways to better protect persons deprived of their liberty from possible abuse, torture and ill-treatment, even when this is done with the inappropriate use of force.

During the meeting, Deputy Šelih presented the practice of the Slovenian NPM regarding the verification of the use of force or other coercive measures in Slovenia. For example, members of the NPM during their visits to prisons regularly check data on the coercive measures used. They pay particular attention to a possible increase in the use of coercive measures in general and to information about which individuals these means have been used against. If necessary, they also check individual personal files or talk to individuals against whom coercive measures were used. The findings are reported in the visit report. In the event of serious complaints, they have the option to consider individual cases based on the competence and powers of the Ombudsman.

They find that in practice, coercive measures are rarely used in prisons. The use of coercive measures must also be a last resort that is applied proportionately. The NPM always emphasises the need for each case of the use of coercive measures to be accurately recorded. They must be checked, and their appropriateness or justification assessed. In this regard, the NPM has repeatedly emphasised the need for the person against whom coercive measures were used to be actively involved in this process. The NPM must have the opportunity to provide their own views of the event and this account must be considered when assessing the justification for the use of coercive measures.

A medical examination also plays an important role in assessing the justification for the use of coercive measures. This is in the interest of (prison) officers (to reject any unfounded complaints) and prisoners. Therefore, the NPM has repeatedly recommended that a medical examination be provided for each person against whom coercive measures have been used, particularly in the event of physical injuries. Nevertheless, the NPM finds that in practice, physicians still do not provide an assessment of the consistency of the person’s statements, how and why the physical injury occurred, and the findings of an objective medical examination.

The main problem is the handling of cases in which the reasons for the use of force differ; when there are differing statements given by the person against whom force was used and by (prison) officers, but there are no other objective witnesses. In such cases, the use of video surveillance systems can play an important role, which also protects police officers and other officials from possible unfounded accusations of illegal conduct. For example, in one of the discussed cases from the Centre for Foreigners, the Ombudsman has already proposed that the Ministry of the Interior ensure the use of such measures (e.g. with the help of wearable personal cameras) at least in cases in which the use of coercive measures is foreseen in the future.

The event organised by the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODHIR) was attended by representatives of 26 national preventive mechanisms (NPMs) from the area of ​​the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), representatives of some international and national non-governmental organisations working in the field of prevention and the fight against torture in the OSCE region, and international and regional supervisory bodies.