Belfast child to end police Taser use?

As previewed on Belfast and Beyond (Tasers: shocks and secrets) some weeks ago, a Belfast child has applied for and yesterday won the right to challenge the PSNI's decision to start using Tasers.

If successful, the child's court challenge could have UK-wide implications for police use of the 50,000-volt device.

As the BBC reports: "Lawyers for the applicant claim there was a failure to carry out a proper equality impact assessment before tasers were brought in.
They also alleged the introduction breached the right to life and right to freedom from torture under the Human Rights Act."

The case, which will be heard in January, marks the latest move in efforts to keep the electro-shock devices out of Northern Ireland or to strictly limit their usage.

When the weapons were introduced to police forces in Great Britain, few voices of concern, beyond that of Amnesty International, were raised and the devices are now being deployed every more widely by forces up and down the country.

As the Independent reported in April of this year:
"An official report on the use of "less-lethal weapons" since the wider use of Tasers was approved last year has revealed that… Rates of deployment have risen from around 25 a month to almost 100."

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, a wide array of children's, victims and rights groups – chastened by local experiences with security force deployment of other 'less lethal' weaponry through the years – have joined Amnesty in challenging the introduction of Tasers.

It was almost two years ago that this blog first warned of the potential dangers ('Tasers can kill') of the devices when we reported on an Belfast seminar, organised by Amnesty, which featured expert speakers from AIUSA and the ACLU. Since then we have followed the twists and turns of the debate and AIUK locally has taken an active role in the developing campaign.

Two years on, those concerns have not gone away. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Policing Board (the police accountability body in NI) – despite their own publicly-stated objections, based on the report of their Independent Human Rights Advisors (lawyers Keir Starmer QC and Jane Gordon) – has so far shown itself to be either unable or unwilling to effectively hold the Chief Constable to account on the matter. This will be one of the issues at the heart of the judicial review to be heard in January.

Given that the judicial review will also adjudicate on whether the decision to deploy Tasers breached the right to life and right to freedom from torture under the Human Rights Act, the case could have significant implications not only for the use of Tasers in Northern Ireland but throughout the UK.

Watch this space.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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