1. This background paper briefly outlines the prevalence of police ill-treatment across
Europe and identifies some of the reforms undertaken to combat such ill-treatment
during police custody and pre-trial detention. Importantly, the paper addresses the two
main pathways towards combating police ill-treatment, namely the effective
implementation of procedural safeguards and investigative police interviewing.
2. The paper is firmly grounded in the findings and standards of the European Committee
for the Prevention of and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). With
its mandate to prevent ill-treatment and its system of regular visits to places of
detention, the CPT is in a unique position to provide a comparative overview of the
prevalence and evolution of police1 ill-treatment in the 47 Member States of the Council
of Europe (CoE).2 In addition, the paper draws upon police reforms undertaken across
the CoE region.
3. The purpose of the paper is to inform discussions at the Copenhagen Conference on
‘Combating Torture during Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention’. The event is hosted
by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the context of Denmark’s chairmanship of the
Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and it is held in partnership with the
CPT, the Convention against Torture Initiative and DIGNITY - Danish Institute against
Torture, on 22-23 March 2018, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
4. The discussion paper has been authored by Dr Julia Kozma, lawyer, member of the CPT
and university lecturer (University of Strasbourg); and Dr Asbjørn Rachlew, Police
superintendent (Oslo police district) and guest researcher (Norwegian Centre for Human
Rights) in cooperation with the DIGNITY - Danish Institute against Torture.
The prevalence of police torture and ill-treatment in Europe
5. Across Europe, practices of torture and other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment
can be found in various circumstances, applied by different members of the law
enforcement authorities, and for different reasons. The CPT chiefly distinguishes
(a) excessive use of force - which amounts to inhuman or degrading treatment - at the
time of apprehension,3
(b) ill-treatment during transport to police stations and in police custody,4 and
(c) ill-treatment, including torture as its most severe form, in the context of police
questioning in criminal investigations, with the aim of extracting a confession or
this connection, the term “police” refers to all law enforcement officials who exercise police powers,
including members of Special Forces, operative police officers, criminal investigators, and police officers with
2 Since its first mission in 1990, the CPT has carried out more than 420 country visits, in the course of which the
members of its delegations have spoken in private with countless persons who were or had recently been
detained by the police, and who provided the CPT with first-hand information about the treatment they had
3 Examples of excessive use of force are kicks to the back of the head, the chest, ribs, stomach or legs, truncheon
blows or stepping on an apprehended person’s back, even when the person concerned displayed no resistance
or after he/she had been brought under control, had been handcuffed and was lying prone on the ground; the
unjustified use of pepper spray; excessively tight handcuffing etc.
4 Please note that ill-treatment occurring as a consequence of inhuman or degrading conditions of detention in
police custody are deliberately not included in this paper.