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Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment


The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) makes it clear that torture is not justified under any circumstances.

States that sign up to the treaty must act to prevent and investigate torture and punish anyone who carries it out. States must also ensure that any victim of torture (or their immediate family if the victim dies) gets adequate compensation, including support for rehabilitation.

By ratifying CAT in 1988, the UK agrees to prevent acts of torture in connection with activities that include:

  • returning, expelling or extraditing someone to another country where there are real grounds to believe he or she will face torture
  • arrest, detention and imprisonment
  • interrogation, and connected to
  • the training of police (civil or military), medical staff, public officials and anyone else who may be involved in the arrest, detention and questioning of a person.

The full text of CAT can be found on the UN website.

How the CAT treaty cycle works

Each treaty operates on its own unique timetable. We are currently preparing our CAT shadow report ahead of the UK government's examination next year. 

A flow chart showing the various milestones of the CAT treaty cycle

CAT work by the Commission

We have published the following reports and research as part of our CAT treaty monitoring work:

  • Our guide for civil society organisations on how to engage with the Convention Against Torture (May 2018)  
  • Our submission (Welsh language version) to the UN Committee Against Torture 57th session (March 2016)
  • Our initial submission to Pre-Sessional Working Group (January 2016)
  • Equality and Human Rights Commission, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Scottish Human Rights Commission: Follow-up regarding Concluding Observations adopted by the Committee Against Torture on the 5th periodic report of the UK (September 2014)
  • Our submission to the Committee against Torture: response to list of issues on the UK's 5th periodic report (April 2013).
  • Our submission to the UN Committee against Torture: response to list of issues on the UK's 5th periodic report (August 2012).

We have produced the following material in relation to this treaty.

  • Our Inquiry into deaths in detention of adults with mental health conditions (February 2015).
  • Consultation Response: Intelligence and Security Committee further inquiry into the role of the UK Government and Security and Intelligence Agencies in relation to detainee treatment and rendition – call for evidence (October 2014).
  • Consultation Response to Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation – Deportation with assurances: call for evidence (February 2014).
  • Chief Executive letter to Justice Secretary (February 2012).
  • Chief Executive letter to Justice Secretary (November 2011).

In June 2016 the Committee against Torture published its list of issues for the UK. It included reference to:

  • the extraterritorial application of the convention
  • recent legal aid reforms and their impact on access to justice
  • guidance provided to intelligence officers who interview overseas detainees
  • reporting restrictions around close court proceedings on national security grounds
  • measures to eliminate violence against women
  • sentences imposed on human trafficking cases
  • accepted asylum seeker claims relating to torture
  • extradition treaties with other countries
  • reducing prison overcrowding
  • measure to prevent ill-treatment of patients receiving health care

The implementation of CAT is monitored by the Committee against Torture, a body made up of 10 independent experts nominated by states that have ratified CAT.

States submit reports to the Committee every four years. These ‘State Reports’ set out the laws and policies put in place to implement CAT, together with information on new developments, complaints, inquiries or other issues relevant to the treaty. The UK last submitted a State Report in 2011.

The Committee considers each State Report, drawing on other information from a wide range of sources. Organisations like the Equality and Human Rights Commission can also submit information to this process in what is known as a ‘shadow report’. The Commission last submitted a shadow report in February 2016.

The Committee uses all this evidence to identify a ‘list of issues’ to be raised. It examines each State Report in discussion with the relevant government. The Committee’s report, complete with recommendations for action, is known as the ‘Concluding Observations’. States must publish these recommendations, act on them and report on progress with the most serious issues one year later. Progress on other recommendations must be covered in the next State Report.

Concluding Observations on the UK were last published in 2013. The UK submitted a follow-up report in response to the Committee’s observations in 2014. The Commission submitted its shadow follow-up report in partnership with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

The Optional Protocol for CAT recognises that the risk of torture and other forms of mistreatment is higher in places where people are detained. This includes, for example, prisons, secure mental health units, secure children's accommodation and immigration detention settings. States that ratify the Optional Protocol must prevent such mistreatment by using an independent process (referred to as a ‘national preventive mechanism’ or UK NPM) to monitor places of detention.  

The UK ratified the Optional Protocol in 2003. HM Inspectorate of Prisons coordinates the UK NPM.

The Committee sometimes issues general comments which explain the application of the treaty in particular situations. You can find these comments on the UN website.

The Committee can also adopt statements and decisions to highlight the importance of major developments and issues.

Confidential Inquiries

Under Article 20 of the Convention, the Committee can carry out a confidential inquiry if it receives reliable information about the regular use of torture in a state that has ratified the Convention. 

Individual complaints

The CAT Committee can consider complaints about breaches of the rights of individuals under the Convention, but only if a state recognises that the Committee has the authority to do this. The UK has not done so.

Last updated: 01 May 2018