At the end of September 2012, we were aware of over 2,600 British prisoners detained overseas in 95 countries. We offer consular assistance to all British nationals, whether they are in police custody, awaiting trial or serving a prison sentence, and regardless of the crime they have been charged with.
We aim to contact British detainees within 24 hours of being notified of their arrest or detention, and, with their consent, visit them as soon as possible afterwards. Our primary role is to monitor their welfare and to provide basic information about the local legal and penal system, including a list of English-speaking lawyers and interpreters, and the availability of legal aid.
We also work closely with Prisoners Abroad, Reprieve, Fair Trials International and other NGOs in this field to help those detained overseas to make contact with family members and obtain any specialist help and advice they need. Prisoners Abroad care for the welfare of British citizens in detention overseas and offer essential services to help them through their time in custody. We work with them on over a thousand cases a year, in particular where prisoners have medical issues. In 2012, we collaborated on the case of a British national in Europe who was not provided with life-sustaining medication. His medical condition was considered by the court and he has now been returned to the UK. We are also collaborating with Fair Trials International to ensure that British nationals are provided with important information on their rights when they are first detained.
Many British prisoners make allegations about poor prison conditions and abusive treatment. We received over 100 new reports of mistreatment from British nationals abroad in 2012, many in European countries. These involved customs officials, police officers, prison guards and military personnel, and varied from verbal threats by other prisoners to being threatened with a gun to sign documents in a foreign language and being subjected to electric shocks. We take all accounts of mistreatment seriously and, subject to the agreement of the person who has made the allegation, will engage with local authorities as soon as possible to seek to ensure treatment in accordance with international human rights standards.
When we have evidence that abuses have taken place, we will also persist when local officials either deny the allegations or dismiss the seriousness of what has happened. In 2012, after many years of discussions with the authorities in a country in Asia, we received reports detailing two investigations into numerous allegations of torture. Although there is still further work to be done on these cases, it was the first time we have received a formal response from the authorities or seen an investigation take place in the country concerned. In another case we were also successful after a number of representations in getting leg irons removed from a British prisoner.
In 2013, we will continue to work closely with our partners to assist British nationals imprisoned overseas, and will raise legitimate concerns about their welfare and treatment. They include some of the most vulnerable people in our consular caseload. In line with the FCO’s efforts to do more for the most vulnerable, we will endeavour to build on the assistance we offer, and to ensure that all detainees are treated in line with internationally accepted standards.