PSNI to ignore Equality Commission advice on Taser pilot

Thanks to a Freedom of Information inquiry from our friends at the Children's Law Centre, we can now see the very clear advice given by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland to the PSNI on the Chief Constable's proposed introduction of Tasers.

In short, the Commission tells off the police for their poor following of equality law to date and tells them to immediately get on with an equality impact assessment (EQIA), as demanded by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Further, in relation to the Chief Constable's proposal to run a Taser pilot scheme with 12 electro-shock weapons issued to firearms officers, the Commission clearly tells the PSNI that "the issue of TASER weapons to any officer would be inappropriate until the EQIA has been completed and its conclusions taken into account."

In total, the letter is pretty damning.

The PSNI carried out an an initial (inadequate according to the Commission) consultation exercise back in September 2006, this letter was sent in July 2007, yet it was only in the second half of October that the PSNI finally started the EQIA.

Doesn't the fact that the police are now carrying out an EQIA, yet meanwhile plan to run a Taser pilot in parallel, somewhat undermine the point of carrying out the assessment?

Anyway, if they are so keen to get on with introducing Tasers, couldn't the police have carried out the EQIA some time after September 2006, yet before October 2007 (it's a whole thirteen months, for goodness sake)? Or were they hoping to avoid the (oh so bothersome) demands of the legislation?

The PSNI now appear to be ignoring the advice of the Equality Commission, on top of ignoring the direction of the Policing Board, not to proceed with Taser piloting until they have conformed with Northern Ireland's equality legislation.

This follows their apparent decision to ignore the advice of Keir Starmer QC (endorsed by the Policing Board) that the PSNI hasn't yet met various human rights concerns: agreement on the proper legal test for the use of Taser; identification of the 'capability gap' based on the agreed legal test; efficacy of the policy guidance and training regarding the use of Taser.

Unsurprisingly, Amnesty International – and, we understand, a number of other groups in Northern Ireland and Britain – declined to participate in the PSNI initial equality impact "pre-consultation" meetings held last week, in protest at the PSNI's apparent disregard for the equality and human rights advice and until the legal position of the Chief Constable's current plans are clarified.

We await further developments.

Meanwhile, just to remind you of the potentially deadly consequences of being 'Tasered', here's a news item from Canada, as reported by the BBC.

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