Spain: Out of the shadows - Time to end incommunicado detention

September 15, 2009

Spain: Out of the shadows - Time to end incommunicado detention

Similarly, a study published in November 2008 in the journal Forensic Science International, which examined 425 medical reports issued on incommunicado detainees in the Basque Country between 2000 and 200558, concluded that the quality of reporting was "unacceptable" and reflected "insufficient and inadequate medical examinations". The majority of reports lacked formal structure, contained inadequate information on injuries and state of health, and did not include conclusions from the examining doctor on whether injuries were consistent with allegations of ill-treatment. None of the documents followed the recommended standard format of the CPT, and only nine followed the standard format recommended by the Ministry of Interior.

The study notes that "The medical examination is supposed to represent a possibility for the detainee to have a professional assessment of his testimony about ill-treatment and a safeguard for police officers against false accusations". The failure of the appointed doctors to conduct thorough and effective examinations of the detainees in these cases, paying particular attention to examining, assessing and recording any allegations or evidence of ill-treatment, renders this supposed safeguard useless. The cause of this failure is likely to be a combination of inadequate guidance to doctors on the importance of their role as safeguard and duty to report possible ill-treatment; inadequate training on diagnostic procedures for proper documentation of ill-treatment and a lack of formal protocols or reporting guidelines; the dual loyalty felt towards the detainee/patient and the appointing authority; and a lack of privacy during medical examinations which makes detainees less likely to cooperate fully due to fear of reprisals.

Proper training and guidance for doctors examining detainees is clearly essential for addressing these problems. Implementing the recommendations of the CPT and the CAT with regards to allowing examinations by a detainee's own doctor would also help to address this issue, as well as bring Spain in line with international standards.

Lack of notification to family members

Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, Principles 15 and 16

… communication of the detained or imprisoned person with the outside world, in particular his family or counsel, shall not be denied for more than a matter of days.

… Promptly after arrest and after each transfer from one place of detention or imprisonment to another, a detained or imprisoned person shall be entitled to notify or to require the competent authority to notify members of his family or other appropriate persons of his choice of his arrest, detention or imprisonment or of the transfer and of the place where he is kept in custody.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 92

An untried prisoner shall be allowed to inform immediately his family of his detention and shall be given all reasonable facilities for communicating with his family and friends, and for receiving visits from them, subject only to restrictions and supervision as are necessary in the interests of the administration of justice and of the security and good order of the institution.