COMPLAINT PROCEDURES

Why is protection against reprisals important?

Key standards
-UN Mandela Rules, R 54-57

https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf
https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf

Efficient and effective complaint procedures are not only in
the interest of prisoners, but also in the interest of the
entire prison system. They help detainees make their voice
heard in prisons. At the same time, they allow the prison
administration to identify systemic problems and develop
solutions and play a key role in building a positive relationship between prisoners and members of staff.
Complaints in prisons are all complaints lodged by or on behalf of
detainees against decisions, actions or lack of official action on a
variety of issues, such as: staff misconduct, inadequate protection
from other inmates who may cause them harm, poor material condi-

-The right to submit a complaint and an effective complaint procedure can be
exercised only if the detainee does not have to fear any form of reprisal, intimi-

-CoE, European Prison Rules, R
30, 70

https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016809ee581#globalcontainer
https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016809ee581#globalcontainer
https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016809ee581#globalcontainer

dation or other negative consequences (e.g. threats, solitary confinement,
other discouraging measures, such as transfer into a less furnished cell) upon
the submission of a complaint.

https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016809ee581#globalcontainer
https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016809ee581#globalcontainer
https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016809ee581#globalcontainer

-The European Court of Human

Rights’ collection of Factsheets
& Jurisprudence

https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=press/factsheets&c
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=press/factsheets&c

https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer

-All staff working for detention facilities must be informed that the highest

https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer

authorities remain vigilant to ensure that detainees who wish to submit a

https://rm.coe.int/16807bc668
-CPT
27th General Report,

complaint will not be subject to any kind of intimidation or reprisal and that

https://rm.coe.int/16807bc668
Complaint
mechanisms

violations of this norm will be severely punished.

tions, lack of activities or insufficient provision of health care.

Recurring problems related to complaints:

1.

Lack of independence, confidentiality or effectiveness that
defeat the purpose of a com-

2.

Lack or inadequate provision
of information about the right
to complain and the rules of

3.

complaint procedures

Examples: Lack of accessibility

Examples: Undue delays; Writ-

Examples:

of written or oral information;

ten complaints to be handed

inmates due to a complaint

Lack of translation of informa-

over or put in complaint boxes in

with the loss of privileges such

tion into the most commonly

open

of

as leave; Failure to transmit

used foreign languages; Special

response to complaints; Lack of

complaints to external com-

needs (of e.g. illiterate detain-

adequate preventive and repa-

plaint bodies; Placement in

ees, people with disabilities, or

ratory measures upon complaint

disciplinary confinement due to

Lack

juveniles) are not addressed

against Torture (OPCAT), are mandated to visit places of detention to prevent torture and ill-treatment

Reprisals upon complaint or
discouraging behaviour build
an atmosphere of distrust and
undermine the detainees’ right
to complain

plaint procedure

envelopes;

National Preventive Mechanisms, established under the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention

Threatening

and examine factors that contribute to its occurrence. They can face extraordinary challenges in
monitoring the efficiency of complaint procedures, but they also have a broad mandate as well as the
authority to investigate potential gaps and detect the inefficiencies. It is essential for them to advocate
for effective complaint procedures, since detainees’ complaints are important indicators of systemic
problems related to detention conditions.

the

a complaint

What should prison staff and administrations consider?
1.

-The information should include authorized methods of seeking information or legal advice and instructions for submitting a complaint.
-Summaries of the information shall be displayed in common areas
of the prison.

Fundamental principles
and requirements
-Free communication with
inspectors and monitors

written

decisions

about

complaints

include detailed reasoning?

-No censorship as to the substance of
complaints

6.

In case of successful complaints, are adequate

Are prison staff and the prison director

preventive and reparatory remedies provided

available for direct complaints of detainees?

in the internal complaint procedure?

Is confidential and free communication to
external

inspectors

prosecutorial,

judicial

and

monitors

services,

7.

(e.g.

NPMs

Does the prison maintain full records of
requests and complaint procedures, and

or

conduct a systematic analysis of complaints?

monitoring NGOs) ensured?

-Confidentiality

4.

8.
Are

detainees’

complaints

promptly and fairly handled?

confidentially,

Are

all

necessary

measures

taken

of a complaint?

-Right to a reasoned decision
-Right to appeal to a judicial or other
authority

languages according to the needs of the prison population.

-Effective investigation upon complaints
related to ill-treatment or death

for

protection against reprisal upon submission

-Promptness

-Prisoners’ effective participation

ities, foreigners or juveniles) shall be addressed.

3.

external

-Information shall be available in the most commonly used
-Special needs (of e.g. illiterate detainees, those living with disabil-

Do

way?

2.

Detainees can fully exercise their right to complain only if they are
properly informed about the human rights violations that can be
addressed through complaints, and the institutional rules of a
complaint procedure. Both written and oral information shall be
provided upon the admission of the detainee to the prison and as
often as necessary afterwards. A key issue at the heart of the
enforcement of the right to information is accessibility.

5.

right to complain provided in an accessible

What do international standards say?
What information should be provided about
the right to complain and how?

Is all the necessary information about the

To find out more about complaints consult our Handbook:

“Complaint
Procedures and
the Right to Information
in Prisons”
https://bit.ly/2Qycv9R
https://bit.ly/2Qycv9R
https://bit.ly/2Qycv9R
For further information on other thematic issues, please refer to our publications on:
https://bit.ly/2Q5Ngfe
https://bit.ly/32lZO4E
Solitary
confinement, https://bit.ly/3dpxbdr
Prison violence, https://bit.ly/2Q5Ngfe
Persons in a situation
of vulnerability

Select target paragraph3