OPCAT Ratification in Australia: Some Lessons for Canada?

After detention scandal upon detention scandal and no end of highly damaging domestic and international news headlines, Australia finally implemented a decisive measure to turn around this depressing state of affairs. The country ultimately took the decision to put pen to paper, ratifying the OPCAT in December 2017.

While the two countries may be many thousands of miles apart, the parallels between Australia and Canada are not insignificant, not least as Australia is a similarly geographically vast, federally structured state, comprising six states and two self-governing territories, which complicates the implementation of the OPCAT in practice. Despite these challenges, Australia has succeeded in ratifying the OPCAT and is currently in the process of instituting a multi-body NPM structure.

In a recent illuminating interview with the Australian OPCAT expert, Steven Caruana, Sydney Criminal Lawyers’ writer Paul Gregoire asked the interviewee a series of probing questions relating to the operation of the OPCAT detention-oversight system in practice, both at home and abroad.

OPCAT Australia

Steven Caruana, recent Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow (copyright of Sydney Criminal Lawyers).

In the course of 2017 Steven Caruana undertook in-depth research into the wider issue of how the OPCAT was functioning in reality as part of his Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship. The resulting publication (which has also been featured on this website), Enhancing best practice inspection methodologies for oversight bodies with an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture focus, identifies both good practice inspection methodologies as well as a concept of what constitutes a framework for good practice for NPMs.

In the interview Steven Caruana responds to a series of questions of direct relevance to the Canadian context. These include questions on the impact of the OPCAT in real life, the improvements the OPCAT might engender in places of detention, the uniqueness of the OPCAT preventive approach, and the best NPM-related practices he encountered in the course of his research. The interviewee also replies to the age-old question of why the human rights of persons in detention should be safeguarded.

Best Practice cover

The Article 24 Procedure

Canadian readers may also be interested to know that, upon ratifying the OPCAT, Australia took advantage of the so-called Article 24 procedure, which allows states to delay the domestic implementation of the instrument (or visits by the UN Subcommittee) initially for up to three years. The idea for such a postponement at the national level is to create an extended window of opportunity for OPCAT States Parties to put in place an NPM.

Australia is certainly not the only country to have made good use of the Article 24 procedure, as Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Philippines and Romania have all done so in recent years.

In a nutshell, the above interview comes as highly recommended reading, especially as the Australian expert responds eloquently to questions routinely raised in the Canadian context. His valuable research can also be accessed by clicking on the adjacent image.