Council of Europe expresses concern at Czech castration of sex offenders

The Council of Europe has raised serious concerns about the use of castration for sex offenders in the Czech Republic, following a visit by the Council's experts to a number of psychiatric facilities. The Council's Committee for the Prevention of Torture has called for greater safeguards to prevent the treatment being wrongly applied.

In 2006, experts from the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited two psychiatric institutions - Dobrany and Brno - and examined the cases of around two dozen convicted sex offenders undergoing treatment there. The Committee said in a report released last week it was concerned at the "protective treatment" given to those patients, particularly castration, both surgical and chemical.

The Committee said it was most concerned at surgical castration applied to those offenders who had committed murder, and with their consent. The Committee expressed "grave doubts as to whether such an intervention should be applied in the context of persons deprived of their liberty", adding it wasn't sure how free a patient's consent for castration could be if the alternative was indefinite confinement in a psychiatric hospital.

The Committee also said it was concerned about the availability of information to all health professionals involved in deciding on treatment, and also about an apparent overlap between the doctors treating the offenders and the panel of experts responsible for approving castration.

The Committee for the Prevention of Torture called for a proper protocol for treating sex offenders to be put in place. This protocol, it said, should facilitate assessment of treatment, including medical examinations and check-ups to monitor the physical side effects of chemical castration on patients.

The Czech government was given space to respond to the criticisms. It said surgical castration was carried out according to law on human health, although amending this law is due to be discussed this year, with more specific regulation of surgical castration to be introduced.

However, the government did concede there were no standardised methods of assessing sex offenders with a view to applying appropriate treatment. As for the specific criticism that the country was unable to supply figures for the number of convicted sex offenders subjected to surgical or chemical castration, government said the Justice Ministry kept no such records, only records of the total number undergoing "protective sexology treatment". In 2005 that figure stood at 223.