Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)
OPCAT is a protocol to an international treaty to which Australia is a party. The objective of OPCAT is to establish a system of regular visits by independent international and domestic bodies to places of detention, in order to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Places of detention include prisons, youth detention centres, police watch houses, court cells and closed environments in mental health, disability and aged care facilities.
OPCAT establishes an international subcommittee (the SPT). SPT members visit Australia, including the Northern Territory, from time to time. NT visits are facilitated by the Monitoring of Places of Detention (Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture) Act 2018 (the NT OPCAT Act).
An independent domestic visiting body for the prevention of torture and other ill-treatment is called a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). The minimum functions of an NPM are:
- To regularly examine the treatment of the persons deprived of their liberty in places of detention ..., with a view to strengthening, if necessary, their protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
- To make recommendations to the relevant authorities with the aim of improving the treatment and the conditions of the persons deprived of their liberty and to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, taking into consideration the relevant norms of the United Nations; and
- To submit proposals and observations concerning existing or draft legislation.
In Australia, NPMs will be established by the Commonwealth, states and territories in relation to their own detaining authorities. For each jurisdiction, more than one entity may have an NPM role. The NT Ombudsman has been nominated as Interim NPM for the NT.
The NT Legislative Assembly has passed amendments to the NT OPCAT Act (yet to commence) to provide for appointment of NPM Inspectors to carry out NPM functions in relation to Territory facilities (Monitoring of Places of Detention (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture) Amendment Act 2022). It is anticipated the NT Ombudsman, the Children's Commissioner and the Principal Community Visitor may be appointed as NPM Inspectors.