The CPT at 30: The APT and partners reflect on the implementation of safeguards in police custody in Europe

Monday, December 2, 2019

30 years ago, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) became the first organ to realise Jean-Jacque Gautier’s vision of a system of unannounced visits to places of detention. The Association for the Prevention of the Torture, instrumental in the CPT’s founding, has closely followed its journey. To mark this important anniversary, the two organisations co-organized a high-level conference to take stock of progress and chart a way forward towards a torture-free Europe in the hemicycle of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on Monday 4 November.

The implementation of fundamental safeguards in the early hours of police custody are vital to the prevention of torture in Europe, and across the world. The “trinity of rights” (access to a lawyer, access to a doctor and notification of a third party) identified by the CPT from the start of its operations, together with the detainees’ information about their rights, are particularly important since their operationalisation can effectively prevent torture- as confirmed by a 2016 global study commissioned by the APT .

From its inception, the CPT has played a pivotal role in establishing these safeguards across Europe. 30 years after the torture prevention body was founded, the anniversary conference co-organized by the APT and the CPT presented an opportunity to review progress and plan for future implementation, with the participation of members of European National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other torture prevention experts, alongside Council of Europe institutions and member States. This event and its following ceremony were streamed live from 14:00 (Central European Time) on Monday 4 November and its video recording can be accessed here.


The APT also took the opportunity of the CPT anniversary to organise two complementary events in Strasbourg geared towards fostering proper implementation of these safeguards in practice, with key national torture prevention actors from the wider Europe region. A peer meeting of NPMs allowed these bodies mandated under the OPCAT to carry out unannounced visits to places of detention, to discuss the complex monitoring of these safeguards in the early hours of detention. A following meeting of NPMs and NGOs was the opportunity to discuss and exchange national experiences on enhancing access to a lawyer during the first hours of police custody. These events were co-organised in partnership with the Council of Europe’s Independent Human Rights Bodies Division and the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR).


 “30 years ago, when the CPT set out on its mission, safeguards in the early hours of police custody were virtually non-existent across Europe,” said Barbara Bernath, the APT’s Secretary General. “Today, that situation is very different and several of these key safeguards are enshrined in national legislations, which is a real positive in terms of preventing torture. It is clear, however, that implementation still lags behind and that much more needs to be done to make these safeguards effective – and that is why these events are so important. But implementing safeguards is not an end in itself; it is only a mean. The end is to have societies where no one is at risk of being ill-treated or tortured in the street, during arrest, transfer, questioning or custody. All of us share this end and we can all join forces to make Europe a torture-free zone.”

The CPT has the right to visit any place of deprivation of liberty, at any time, in any of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe. Over the past 30 years, it has carried out thousands of visits to police stations, prisons, immigration detention centres, psychiatric establishments and social care homes. Its reports to State authorities include key recommendations on how to improve detention conditions and prevent torture and ill-treatment. In 2014, the CPT organised a conference (The CPT at 25: taking stock and moving forward) that identified impunity in police and prison contexts, the use of solitary confinement and juveniles in detention as common challenges across member states.

For more information please contact: Eva Csergö, Europe and Central Asia Programme Officer