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Howard League blog · 3 May 2019

Giving evidence to the United Nations

I am going to Geneva to give oral evidence to the Committee against Torture on how the UK government fails to uphold its obligations. The Howard League submitted written evidence to the committee to inform its questioning of the government on Tuesday.

The Howard League was one of the very first non-governmental organisations to be granted consultative status with the United Nations in 1947, in acknowledgement of our longstanding expert work with its predecessor organisation, the League of Nations. We have worked with UN committees ever since, providing research and promoting good practice.

The Convention Against Torture came into force in 1987 and has been signed by 83 nation states, including the UK. The Convention set up a monitoring process to hold states to account and its committee holds oral hearings with government representatives every few years. Next week it is the turn of the UK and a senior delegation, led by the Ministry of Justice, will be grilled by the committee.

The Howard League was one of the very first non-governmental organisations to be granted consultative status with the United Nations

We will tell the committee that the UK government is in breach of its obligations under the Convention by pursuing policies that deliberately inflict pain and practices that result in inhuman and degrading treatment.

Our oral statement will say:

  • Prisons in England and Wales are grossly overcrowded and over-used. There are 78,500 men and 3,800 women in custody.
  • Over 20,000 men are forced to share cells designated for single occupancy and the new prison in Wales was built with forced cell sharing for 2,000 men.
  • This means men have to defecate, eat and often spend almost all day in a small, airless cell with a stranger.
  • The deaths of prisoners (325 including 87 by suicide in 2018) are being tolerated.
  • The use of violence by staff, including painful restraint and solitary confinement, has increased and is being matched by assaults by prisoners.

The Howard League for Penal Reform collates and conducts research and has an in-house legal team representing children and young adults in penal custody. Our casework has included children who have been isolated in prison for months and children who have experienced repeated painful restraints and injuries.

The Howard League worked with the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights that conducted a thorough inquiry into both practices. It concluded that children are being placed in solitary confinement which may be prolonged and that the use of force is unacceptably high.

It is our contention that the UK government is in breach of its obligations and is practising cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on adult and child prisoners.


  • Paul Burne says:

    Prisoners should be housed in individual apartments with respect and dignity and only those who rebel should be moved to older prisons until they conform.
    Their sentence is their punishment and in no way should they be further punished.
    Rehabilitation is the goal.
    Week days at least two should be for release of non dangerous criminals especially those who conform.
    All prisoners should be housed near their hometown without acception.
    Cells or apartments without daylight should be forbidden.
    All cells need a window which can partly be opened for fresh air, without acception.
    It’s the prison that has to protect windows from drones. In other words opening windows are a necessity.
    Sharing an apartment or cell is unlawful and against the prisoners human rights.
    Anyone bringing drugs into a prison should be imprisoned themselves without acception.
    There should be no drugs or alcohol in a prison.
    The prisoners who obtain drugs should not be punished.

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