European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment


Complaints mechanisms
Extract from the 27th General Report of the CPT,
published in 2018

For the purpose of this section, the term “complaints” refers to all formal complaints lodged by, or sometimes
on behalf of, persons deprived of their liberty against decisions, actions or lack of official action on a variety
of issues, in particular: staff misconduct, inadequate protection from other persons deprived of liberty who
may cause them harm, poor material conditions, lack of activities or insufficient provision of health care.
“Complaints” qualify as such irrespective of the seriousness of the issues complained of and whether or not
they could amount to ill-treatment. As is the case in several countries, the term “complaints” may include
actions aimed at challenging decisions taken by the relevant complaints bodies. The right to complain or to
challenge these decisions is often referred to as an “appeal”. At the same time, legal action aimed at
challenging decisions on deprivation of liberty/placement is not covered in this section.

68. In the CPT’s view, complaints mechanisms constitute a fundamental safeguard against torture
and inhuman or degrading treatment of persons deprived of their liberty by a public authority,
regardless of the place or situation concerned (police stations, prisons, penal institutions for
juveniles, immigration detention centres, psychiatric hospitals, social care homes, military detention
facilities, forced return flights, etc.). Such mechanisms can not only allay tensions between persons
deprived of their liberty and staff but also, by ensuring that complaints are taken seriously,
contribute to building positive relationships.
69. However, on a number of occasions, the CPT has found that complaints mechanisms were either
non-existent or displayed major shortcomings. These concerned in particular an insufficient legal
basis, lack of, or inadequate, provision of information about complaints bodies or procedures, undue
delays in initiating the examination/ investigation of complaints, lack of thoroughness in the
examination/investigation of complaints, lack of independence or impartiality of the officials
dealing with complaints, or insufficient protection against intimidation and reprisals.
During its visits, the Committee has encountered many persons deprived of their liberty who were
unaware that they had the possibility to complain, who had found it very difficult to make
complaints or who had refrained from making a complaint out of fear of reprisals. Others lacked
trust that their complaints would be considered credible and/or be examined in a fair manner.

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