Monitoring places of detention
This page provides information about the Ombudsman’s role in examining and monitoring places of detention under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989, giving effect to New Zealand’s international obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
- What do we do?
- Who is involved?
- What is involved in an inspection?
- What is the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT)?
- What is a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM)?
- What is the Crimes of Torture Act (COTA)?
- How do we know if New Zealand's places of detention meet international human rights standards?
- Where can I find out more?
The Ombudsman is tasked with examining and monitoring the treatment of people who are, or may be, ‘deprived of their liberty’ in ‘places of detention’ and make any recommendations considered appropriate to improve that treatment.
For the legal definition, see Article 4 of the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which New Zealand has signed up to.
The Ombudsman is responsible for examining and monitoring the treatment of people detained in New Zealand’s:
- prisons and court facilities
- immigration detention facilities
- health and disability places of detention (such as within hospitals and secure care facilities, including those in publically and privately run aged care facilities
- child care and protection and youth justice residences.
Our OPCAT team assists the Ombudsman by inspecting the relevant places of detention. The team’s function is to gather the necessary information for the Ombudsman, using a consistent inspection framework so we are fair to all.
The team includes inspectors with various expertise and backgrounds in mental health and disability, social work, and prison operation and management.
Our inspectors are also helped on their visits by specialist advisors, with medical, cultural and social expertise, as well as people who either have been detained, or have advocated on behalf of detainees, at the facility that is being inspected.
The Ombudsman and OPCAT inspectors have unrestricted access to these places of detention. They also have unrestricted access to information about the number of detainees, the treatment of detainees, and the conditions of detention. In addition, they are entitled to interview any person in a place of detention, or anyone who can provide relevant information.
Our inspectors regularly inspect relevant places of detention and look at:
- The treatment of detainees, including any allegations of ill-treatment, the use of isolation, force or restraint
- The facility’s protection measures, such as information provided for detainees, complaint processes, registers, and record-keeping
- Detainees’ material conditions, such as facilities and living conditions
- Detainees’ activities, such as contact with their family and others outside the facility, outdoor exercise, education and leisure activities
- Detainees’ access to health care
- Staff, such as staffing levels, conduct and training.
Following the visits, the Ombudsman produces a report of the findings, which includes any recommendations for improving the conditions of detention and treatment of detainees.
In some cases, our inspectors do a follow up visit to find out how the Ombudsman’s recommendations are being addressed.
The Ombudsman’s full inspection reports are provided to those in charge of the facility. These reports are often also tabled in Parliament. Reports on follow-up visits are provided to the person in charge of the facility.
The Ombudsman’s reports are also published here.
The United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is a unique international human rights agreement that New Zealand ratified in 2007.
Unlike other human rights treaty processes that deal with violations of rights after the fact, the OPCAT focuses on preventing human rights violations of people deprived of liberty.
The OPCAT establishes international and national monitoring mechanisms to visit places where people are detained, with the overall aim of preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. These are called ‘National Preventive Mechanisms’ (NPMs).
Find out more about the international human rights laws and treaties that New Zealand has signed up to, and its obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of everyone in New Zealand, on the Ministry of Justice’s website.
In New Zealand, the Crimes of Torture Act 1989 (COTA) provides for the designation of 'National Preventive Mechanisms' (NPMs), as required by the OPCAT.
NPMs are independent bodies whose role is to examine, at regular intervals, the conditions of detention and treatment of detainees, and make recommendations to the government for improvement.
New Zealand’s NPMs are the:
- Independent Police Conduct Authority, which is responsible, with the Ombudsman, for examining and monitoring the treatment of people detained in court facilities, in Police cells, or in the custody of the New Zealand Police;
- Children’s Commissioner, who is responsible, with the Ombudsman, for examining and monitoring the treatment of children and young people detained in child care and protection and youth justice residences
- Inspector of Service Penal Establishments, who is responsible for examining and monitoring the treatment of people detained in defence force penal establishments.
The Human Rights Commission is the 'Central Preventive Mechanism' (CPM), responsible for coordinating the activities of the NPMs, and liaising with the United Nations.
The NPMs’ functions are formally recorded in the New Zealand Gazette, published on 6 June 2018.
The Ombudsman’s designation was extended on 6 June 2018 to include monitoring and inspecting the treatment of detainees in privately run aged care facilities, and detainees in court cells. Read our media release.
Find out more about the New Zealand laws that promote and protect human rights, on the Ministry of Justice’s website.
The countries that have signed up to the OPCAT can expect to have their progress monitored by the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT). The SPT has the same entitlements to information and access to places of detention as the NPMs.
The SPT’s reports on all countries that have obligations under the OPCAT, and its annual reports, are available on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website.
The SPT visited New Zealand from 29 April to 8 May 2013. Its report on that visit is available on the Human Rights Commission website or from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website.
- View the Chief Ombudsman's presentation to the New Zealand Aged Care Association's annual conference on protecting the rights of detained people here - September 2018
- Download our Fact Sheet (PDF | Word) – Ombudsman’s new responsibilities in monitoring the treatment of people detained in private aged care facilities - July 2018