An external expert is an individual who is recruited by the NPM to support specific NPM activities and who is neither staff nor a member of the NPM. External experts are most often recruited to support the NPM in conducting visits to places of deprivation of liberty, although some also contribute to other NPM functions (e.g. legal advice). This definition does not include the modality by which an ombuds institution has concluded a formal agreement with civil society organisations to fulfil its NPM mandate (Ombuds plus model), as per an official act or decision upon (or following) designation of this institution as NPM.
NPMs’ broad mandate under the OPCAT requires a diversity of expertise to effectively monitor the specificities of different detention settings, understand and address the causes of the problems faced by persons deprived of their liberty, including those belonging to groups in situation of vulnerability. Achieving multi-disciplinarity within the NPM is, however, a challenge, in particular for smaller NPMs who do not have sufficient internal human resources but sometimes also for well-resourced NPMs. To respond to this challenge and fulfil their broad OPCAT mandate, NPMs may need to call on experts with varied sets of skills. Such expertise can include specific professional or technical skills (in fields as diverse as law, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, anthropology, nutrition or architecture), specific experience on certain types of places or knowledge on particular groups in situation of vulnerability that will enhance the visiting team’s capacity to better understand the needs of those groups (e.g. women, LGBTI persons, children, persons with disabilities).
Another form of expertise integrated by some NPMs is the personal “lived experience” (or “experts by experience”, for example former users of psychiatric services). The presence of these experts is valuable in that their lived experience sheds a different light on the aspects to be considered when monitoring and places the visiting team in a better position to build trust with the persons deprived of liberty that it may interact with during visits.