Amnesty calls for Strathclyde Taser Pilot to be Abandoned

New evidence suggests pilot “unlawful”

Amnesty International has supplied legal evidence to the Justice Secretary, Kenny McAskill, indicating that Strathclyde Police has not acted lawfully in setting up a Taser pilot scheme, in which 30 ordinary police officers have been supplied with the potentially lethal weapons.

Analysis carried out by leading Scottish QC, Aidan O’Neill, found that Scottish Ministers are required to give written authorisation before any new schemes to arm police officers can take place. No such authorisation has been obtained for the Strathclyde Pilot.

Furthermore, the Scottish Government has responsibility for determining firearms policy in Scotland. Its obligations under the Scotland Act and Human Rights Act provide a duty to implement a legal and administrative framework governing the use of Tasers and other firearms. This has not been done.

John Watson, Scottish Programme Director for Amnesty International, said:

"We now have proof that this pilot has been pushed through without due process and the Scottish Government should halt it immediately.

"The provision of firearms to ordinary officers on the beat represents a major shift in policing policy in Scotland.  Strathclyde Police are taking a major step along the slippery slope towards an armed police force - without engaging Scottish Ministers who have the responsibility to set policy on policing matters, or local politicians who are supposed to hold the police force to account.

“It has always seemed incredible that a decision to arm police officers could be made without any democratic accountability, which is why Amnesty International has sought this legal opinion. Now that our evidence has undermined the legal status of this pilot, it must be abandoned and Scottish Ministers must take charge of the matter.

“Amnesty isn’t necessarily opposed to Tasers playing a role in modern policing.  But we believe that the appropriate place for firearms is in the hands of appropriately trained Firearms Officers rather than with ordinary officers on the beat. There are already 700 specially trained and regulated officers in Scotland who can carry Tasers.

”We recognise the serious concerns over attacks on police officers, but we have not seen evidence as to why the wider arming of the police is the appropriate response. Tasers are potentially lethal weapons and their use has already been linked to nearly 300 deaths in the USA and Canada.

“We need to have a proper public debate about our police and our society – and the implications of further arming our police.”

The legal analysis produced for Amnesty International concludes that:

- While firearms legislation is reserved to Westminster, control over firearms policy and the delivery of existing legislation has been specifically devolved to Scottish Ministers
- The European Court has ruled that the State must “secure the right to life by putting in place an appropriate legal and administrative framework defining the limited circumstances in which law-enforcement officials may use force and firearms”
- The Chief Constable in Strathclyde does not have the necessary authority for the purchase or acquisition of firearms and ammunition in the public service. Such authority must take the form of written authorisation from the Scottish Ministers.

Amnesty International commissioned a legal analysis of the pilot from leading advocate Aidan O’Neill QC a senior counsel member of the Ampersand stable of advocates at the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh. The full analysis is available from Amnesty International.

At a meeting of the Strathclyde Police Authority on Thursday 4 February 2010, plans were outlined to run a pilot scheme to extend the provision of Taser electro-shock weapons to 30 non-firearms officers. The pilot commenced on Monday 12th April and is taking place in the Stewart Street and Rutherglen & Cambuslang areas of Strathclyde.

View latest press releases