NPMs In Practice: The View From New Zealand

From out of the archives comes a very illuminating discussion on the work of New Zealand’s NPM, as hosted in a previous edition of the highly respected Speak Up/Kōrerotia radio show. In this podcast the show’s host, Sally Carlton, interviewed Jacki Jones of the Office of the Ombudsman and Jolyon White of the Howard League in an aptly titled episode, ‘Monitoring Places of Detention’.

Comprising some five different bodies, the New Zealand NPM has now been exercising its OPCAT mandate for over a decade, since the country ratified the OPCAT in 2007. In view of the distinct possibility that Canada too may adopt a multi-body mechanism as its future NPM, the podcast from 2016 remains as relevant today as the day it was broadcast.

Among the different issues discussed during the podcast, most of which have direct relevance to the Canadian context, were included the following:

  • What constitutes deprivation of liberty?
  • What is the OPCAT and what does it mean for New Zealand?
  • What does the NPM focus on during visits and to what extent does the NPM conduct follow-up to the findings of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT)?
  • What are the common concerns found in prisons?
  • What rights do persons in detention have?
  • Are mental health issues a prevailing factor in such settings?

The answers to these discussion questions are also interspersed with music. Thus, for readers with a penchant for fine New Zealand music such as Crowded House, the show additionally merits a closer listen.


Background information

The New Zealand NPM comprises five different specialized bodies, including: New Zealand Human Rights Commission; Office of the Ombudsman; Independent Police Conduct Authority; Office of the Children’s Commissioner; and the Inspector of Service Penal Establishments. More detailed information about the detention responsibilities of the different NPM bodies can be found on the Human Rights Commission’s website.

New Zealand NPMIn the context of this NPM arrangement the New Zealand Human Rights Commission has an overall organizational role with responsibilities for NPM coordination, reports, systemic issues, and liaison with the United Nations. It should be stressed, however, that the task of establishing the collective visibility of the NPM and coordinating its activities has not been without its challenges, not least in the absence of adequate resources.

During a visit to New Zealand in 2013 the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture lamented the fact that no additional resources had been allocated to the five monitoring bodies when assuming the NPM mantle. The SPT stated in no uncertain terms: “Should the current lack of human and financial resources available to the mechanism not be remedied without delay, the State party will inevitably find itself in the breach of its obligations under the Optional Protocol.”[1]

In its most recent Annual Report from 2016-2017 the NPM has continued to bemoan its overall lack of resources, stating (on page 4):

The NPM’s potential remains underutilised as inadequate resourcing continues to constrain some NPMs. As a result, the mechanism is yet to make consolidated progress on a range of key issues of concern and has not been able to implement a more comprehensive monitoring approach that is in line with international best practice. Better resourcing would enable increased frequency of visits and better inspection coverage by all NPMs, as required under OPCAT. More funding would also mean the services of experts could be contracted to assist with visits when and where required. All NPMs should be fully resourced to carry out their OPCAT responsibilities.

Quite clearly, if the Canadian Government opts for a multi-body approach to implementing the OPCAT (as has been predicted in these pages), it should ensure at all costs that the NPM is adequately resourced. Regrettably, the New Zealand NPM is far from alone in being a significantly under-resourced national torture prevention body.


Read more about the New Zealand NPM here in English.

The New Zealand NPM’s latest Annual Report is available here.

The report of the 2013 visit to New Zealand by the UN Subcommittee is available in English and French.

Readers may also wish to listen to an earlier Soundcloud interview featured on this website with the Norwegian NPM, the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

[1] Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,  Visit to New Zealand undertaken from 29 April to 8 May 2013: observations and recommendations addressed to the State party – Report of the Subcommittee (UN Doc. CAT/OP/NZL/1, 10 February 2017) §12.