Monitoring places of detention – OPCAT

If you would like to contact us on OPCAT-related matters, please use the ‘Make a complaint’  button at the top of the page and select ‘Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT)’ from the drop-down menu.

Please be aware that the Commonwealth NPM function focuses on systemic issues to reduce the risk of ill-treatment in detention and does not respond to individual complaints. Complaints are handled by a separate part of the Ombudsman’s Office. If you wish to make a complaint, please complete this form.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)

OPCAT is an international treaty designed to strengthen protections for people in situations where they are deprived of their liberty and potentially vulnerable to mistreatment or abuse.

OPCAT requires signatory states to establish a system of regular preventive visits to places of detention by independent bodies known as National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs). It also requires that signatories accept visits from the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT).

The Australian Government ratified OPCAT in December 2017 and opted to postpone its obligation to establish an NPM until January 2022.

The Committee against Torture (CAT) granted an extension for the Australian Government’s obligation to establish an NPM until 20 January 2023.

Latest News on OPCAT:

  • On 27 November 2023, the Australian National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) convened for its sixth meeting. The members discussed a range of matters as outlined in the communiqué which can be found here.
  • On 16 November 2023, the OPCAT Advisory Group (OAG) convened for their second meeting of 2023. The OAG discussed various issues including the continuing lack of full implementation of OPCAT in Australia. The OAG also discussed the recent findings and recommendations on OPCAT and detention from the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. The communiqué from the meeting can be found here.
  • On 21 December 2023, members of the Australian NPM made a joint statement on the report of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture’s 2022 visit to Australia and the Australian Government’s reply. The joint statement can be accessed here.
  • On 28 November 2023, members of the Australian NPM made a submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture’s fourth thematic report which will focus on current issues and good practices in prison management. The submission can be accessed here.
  • On 6 September 2023, members of the Australian NPM released a joint statement on changes to Queensland laws allowing indefinite detention of children in police watch houses and adult prisons. The statement can be accessed here.
  • On 15 August 2023, the members of Australia’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) convened for the fifth meeting of Australia’s NPM Network. The members discussed issues with access to health care and youth detention environments. The Communiqué for the meeting can be found here.
  • On 4 August 2023, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (PJCHR) published a submission made by members of the Australian NPM. The submission is in response to the Committee’s inquiry into the effectiveness of Australia’s 2010 Human Rights Framework and the National Human Rights Action Plan. Read the submission here.
  • On 12 May 2023, the OPCAT Advisory Group (OAG) convened for their first meeting of 2023. During the meeting, the Advisory group agreed on the updated Terms of reference (TORs). The TORs document can be found here and the Communique from the meeting can be found here.
  • On 10 May 2023, members of the Australian National Preventive Mechanism released a joint statement noting that the 2023-24 Federal Budget did not contain any additional funding for the implementation of Australia’s obligations under OPCAT. The submission can be accessed here.
  • On 14 April 2023, members of Australia’s NPM made a submission to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) on their draft General Comment on Article 4 of OPCAT relating to the definition of ‘places of detention’. The submission can be accessed here. The draft General Comment and the SPT’s call for comments can be found here.
  • On 24 February 2023, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and members of Australia’s National Preventive Mechanism spoke to the AM Program about the importance of Australia working to meet its obligations under OPCAT, after the decision of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture to terminate its visit to Australia. The interview can be found here.

The SPT consists of 25 independent and impartial experts who have a threefold mandate to visit places of detention, provide advice to and assist respective governments and NPMs – on NPM establishment, function and co-operation with other international, regional and national like‑minded organisations. The SPT’s mandate is complementary to that of NPMs.

The SPT may visit any place under the jurisdiction of a State Party where persons may be deprived of their liberty. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • police stations
  • prisons (civilian and military)
  • detention centres (e.g. pre-trial detention centres, immigration detention facilities, juvenile justice establishments)
  • mental health facilities and
  • social care institutions.

It recommends action to be taken to improve the treatment of detainees, including conditions of detention.

The SPT confirmed the dates of its Australian visit as 16–27 October 2022. On 23 October 2022, the SPT suspended its visit to Australia citing several reasons for its decision, including being prevented from accessing certain places of detention and not being provided all the relevant information and documents requested The SPT’s media release can be found here. On 20 February 2023, the SPT announced that it had formally terminated its visit because Australia was unable to provide the assurances requested by the SPT to resume its visit within a reasonable timeframe.

The Office continues to engage with the SPT. The SPT also previously signalled changes in how it engages with NPMs during country visits. As part of these changes, the SPT will no longer request that any reports made for NPMs be made public.

Further information about the SPT can be found here.

The Commonwealth National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) is responsible for monitoring places of detention that are controlled by the Commonwealth government. This includes immigration detention, and places of detention controlled by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Due to the requirements of OPCAT, the Commonwealth NPM CANNOT manage complaints.

Given Australia’s federal system of government, the Commonwealth and each state and territory government is required to nominate an NPM to monitor places of detention within their respective jurisdiction. As of December 2022, the following have been announced or nominated as NPMs:

Commonwealth Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman

Western Australia Ombudsman Western Australia (for mental health and other secure facilities), Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services (WA) (for justice-related facilities including police lockups)

Northern Territory Office of the Ombudsman NT (as interim Coordinating NPM)

Australian Capital Territory ACT Inspector of Correctional Services, ACT Human Rights Commission, ACT Ombudsman (multi-body NPM)

Tasmania Mr Richard Connock (concurrently the Tasmanian Ombudsman and Custodial Inspector)

South Australia Official Visitors (for adult prisons), Principal Community Visitor (for closed mental health and closed forensic disability facilities), and Training Centre Visitor (training centres)

Coordinating Australia’s NPM Network

In July 2018, the Australian Government announced it had nominated the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (the Office) as the NPM Coordinator. In this role, the Office is tasked with coordinating the Australian NPM Network, comprising the Commonwealth, state and territory oversight bodies nominated by their governments as NPMs. This may include collecting information, facilitating information sharing and collaboration, providing secretariat support and preparing consolidated reports about NPM activities.

The Office has convened five meetings of Australia’s NPM Network, bringing together members to discuss OPCAT implementation. The NPM Network publishes a communiqué summarising its discussions after each meeting.

On 20 January 2023, the Office published the Terms of Reference for the NPM Network. The Terms of Reference outline the governance arrangements for the Network including membership, the role of the NPM Coordinator, the operation of the Network and reporting processes. The Terms of Reference can be found here.

Members of the Australian NPM have released six joint statements to date:

Monitoring places of detention under the control of the Commonwealth

In July 2018, the Australian Government announced the Office as the NPM for places of detention under the control of the Commonwealth (the Commonwealth NPM). This includes places of immigration detention and places of detention under the control of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Defence Force.

Our role is to monitor the treatment of people and the conditions of their detention and make recommendations for improvement. We have full and free access to detention facilities, which means we can choose which places we want to visit and when, and the people we want to interview.

Monitoring places of detention under the control of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

In January 2022, the ACT Government announced the ACT Ombudsman as one part of the multi-body NPM for places of detention under the control of the ACT (the ACT NPM), alongside the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services and the ACT Human Rights Commission.

The ACT Ombudsman, ACT Inspector of Correctional Services and ACT Human Rights Commission are meeting regularly to plan the joint implementation of this important new function.

The Office will be responsible for oversight of ACT Police cells in its capacity representing both the Commonwealth Ombudsman, as the Commonwealth NPM, and the ACT Ombudsman, as part of the multi-body ACT NPM.

Submissions on draft legislation

From time to time the Office makes submissions, either on its own behalf or on behalf of bodies constituting Australia’s NPM, to other jurisdictions on draft legislation relating to OPCAT, detention, and/or detention monitoring. Not all of these submissions are made public. The Office has made the following publicly available submissions:

Submissions to UN bodies

  • On 21 December 2023, members of the Australian NPM made a joint statement on the report of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture’s 2022 visit to Australia and the Australian Government’s reply. The joint statement can be accessed here.
  • On 28 November 2023, members of the Australian NPM made a submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture’s fourth thematic report which will focus on current issues and good practices in prison management. The submission can be accessed here.
  • On 14 April 2023, members of Australia’s NPM made a submission to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) on their draft General Comment on Article 4 of OPCAT relating to the definition of ‘places of detention’. The submission can be accessed here. The draft General Comment can be found here.
  • On 30 September 2022, the Commonwealth Ombudsman provided a submission to the United Nations Committee against Torture as part of the Committee’s consideration of Australia’s sixth periodic report under the Convention against Torture.
  • In November 2022, the Committee’s adopted its Concluding Observations on Australia’s sixth period report. The Committee’s Concluding Observations can be found here.
  • On 14 March 2023, members of Australia’s NPM made a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The submission was in response to the Special Rapporteur’s call for input on practices for the investigation, documentation, and prevention of deaths in custody in the criminal justice context. The submission can be accessed here.

Submissions to Parliamentary inquiries

  • On 4 August 2023, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (PJCHR) published a submission made by members of the Australian NPM. The submission is in response to the Committee’s inquiry into the effectiveness of Australia’s 2010 Human Rights Framework and the National Human Rights Action Plan. Read the submission here.

Australia’s implementation of OPCAT

Ombudsman’s OPCAT readiness report

In September 2019, the Office published a report about Australia’s readiness to implement OPCAT and the need to nominate Commonwealth, state and territory NPMs.

The report relied on information provided by existing inspection and oversight bodies to determine the extent to which they, in accordance with OPCAT:

  • are independent of the entity they inspect/oversee
  • have full access to people, places and records in detention facilities
  • can visit facilities announced or unannounced
  • are free to report publicly and to make recommendations
  • are free to allocate their resources as they see fit, and
  • visit facilities regularly, rather than in response to a complaint, as part of an investigation.

The report highlighted that, while there are existing inspection and oversight bodies in all jurisdictions, there are gaps in oversight, scope, resourcing and in some instances a lack of genuine independence in the inspecting bodies in various jurisdictions. The report serves as a baseline against which Australia may wish to track its progress over time.

Australian Human Rights Commission ‘Implementing OPCAT in Australia’ report 2020

In June 2020 the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) published a report on implementing OPCAT in Australia. The Commission noted greater momentum is needed towards implementation and recommended the NPM Network be established as soon as possible and in a way that ensures all places of detention are subject to independent oversight.

The Office notes the AHRC’s report and specific recommendations. We will work with AGD and the Australian NPM Network to consider if and how these recommendations might be implemented.

Monitoring activities

Under OPCAT, NPMs are expected to provide regular public reporting about their monitoring activities, observations and recommendations to address risks of ill treatment of people in places of detention.

Since 2019, the Office has published reports about its activities to monitor immigration detention:

In July 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office issued a public statement about the Department of Home Affairs’ arrangements for preventing and managing COVID-19 in the immigration detention network.

On 7 October 2022, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commissioner, Lorraine Finlay, released a joint statement on the use of hotels as alternative places of detention for individuals in immigration detention.

The Office welcomes receiving information and research about issues that affect people deprived of their liberty. While the Office’s independence is key to its monitoring function under OPCAT, we value the role of civil society in informing our approach.

In early 2020, the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman established a civil society advisory group (OPCAT Advisory Group [OAG]) to provide expert advice and guidance to the Office about its functions and responsibilities as an NPM and as the Coordinator of the Australian NPM Network. On the 12 May 2023, the OPCAT Advisory Group (OAG) agreed on the updated Terms of reference (TORs) at their meeting. The TORs can be found here.

The Advisory Group’s first meeting was on 3 March 2020 and meetings take place three times each year. From 2021, the Advisory Group agreed to publish a Communique summarising its discussions after each meeting.

2023

The Advisory Group Communique No. 2 of 2023 is available here.

The Advisory Group Communique No. 1 of 2023 is available here.

2022

The Advisory Group Communique No. 2 of 2022 is available here.

The Advisory Group Communique No. 1 of 2022 is available here.

2021

The Advisory Group Communique No. 3 of 2021 is available here.

The Advisory Group Communique No. 2 of 2021 is available here

The Advisory Group Communique No. 1 of 2021 is available here.

The Advisory Group is chaired by the Commonwealth Ombudsman and comprises the following members:

  • Mr Paris Aristotle AO – CEO, Foundation House
  • Emeritus Professor Neil Morgan – Former Inspector of Custodial Services (Western Australia)
  • Professor Bronwyn Naylor OAM – RMIT University; co-founder of the Australian OPCAT Network
  • Ms Lorraine Finlay – Human Rights Commissioner
  • Ms Anne Hollonds – National Children’s Commissioner
  • Ms Vicki Mau – Director of Australian Programs, Australian Red Cross
  • Ms Carolyn Frohmader – Executive Director, Women With Disabilities Australia
  • Dr Eddie Cubillo – descendant of the Larrakia, Wadjigan and Central Arrernte peoples; lawyer and legal academic.

The Ombudsman may also invite – as guests or permanent members – representatives to advise on issues affecting different groups including children, people with disability, people of diverse gender and/or sexuality, and the elderly.

The Ombudsman also consults other civil society stakeholders and continues to build and maintain ongoing dialogue with a wide variety of interested representatives from civil society beyond the OAG.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Speeches by the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman:

  • Termination of SPT visit – a radio interview with the AM Program on 24 February 2023, with Iain Anderson, and members of Australia’s National Preventive Mechanism, about the importance of Australia meeting its OPCAT obligations after the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture terminated its visit to Australia.
    NPM Implementation - a short video message delivered on 20 January 2023.
    ‘Commencement of Australia’s National Preventive Mechanism obligations under OPCAT’,

National OPCAT Symposium, Melbourne, 9 September 2022
‘The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s work coordinating Australia’s NPM and monitoring Commonwealth places of detention’,

Future Justice and Corrections Summit, Sydney, 29 March 2022
‘Developments in OPCAT implementation in Australia, and the importance of the preventive mandate’

10th Annual Prisons Conference, Sydney, 15 June 2021
‘The Implementation of OPCAT in Australia and challenges for detention inspections in a COVID-19 world’,

‘Implementation of OPCAT in Australia - an update’, 2020 Future Justice and Corrections Summit, Sydney, 19 February 2020

8th Annual Prisons Conference, Brisbane, July 2019
‘Implementing OPCAT in Australia’, 7th Annual Prisons Conference, Melbourne, August 2018.

Workshops and webinars:

  • On 9 September 2022, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and officers from the Commonwealth NPM and NPM Coordinator team attended the National OPCAT Symposium. The Symposium had several presentations by guest speakers, including the Commonwealth Ombudsman, and four workshops on effectively carrying out the NPM mandate.
  • On 5 September 2022, the Office participated in a Global Detention Project webinar titled ‘The Many Tools of OPCAT for Preventing Harmful Migration-related detention’. The webinar discussed the role of NPMs and the SPT in monitoring migration-related detention.
  • In July 2021 the Office participated as a panel member on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s webinar to discuss their report on Management of COVID-19 risks in immigration detention. The Commission’s report follows on from the Office’s statement on the management of COVID-19 risks in immigration detention facilities published in July 2020. A link to the webinar recording is here.

Australian resources

New Zealand resources:

OPCAT internationally:

Australian legislation:

If you wish to contact us on OPCAT matters, you can do so by clicking on the ”Make a complaint” button at the top of this page and select ‘Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT)’ from the drop-down menu.

You can use this to provide us with information, or make enquiries, on:

  • places of detention under the control of the Commonwealth (Commonwealth NPM)
  • detention monitoring bodies across Australia (NPM Coordinator)
  • the OPCAT Advisory Group (OAG).

Please note that while information provided and enquiries made will be considered or referred as relevant, we may not necessarily respond to you.