Amnesty comments on apparent split over authorisation for police use of Tasers

Amnesty International has highlighted an apparent split between Westminster and Holyrood Ministers over whether police forces require political authorisation before deploying new firearms to officers.

The human rights group was responding to reports that the Home Office in England will write to the Raoul Moat inquest indicating that there was no license in place to authorise its distribution to Police officers and that the weapon has not yet received Home Office approval. This is in stark contrast to the current stance taken by Scottish Ministers  who state that no such ministerial oversight and authorisation is required for taser deployment in Scotland.

Strathclyde Police are conducting a pilot scheme issuing Taser weapons to 30 ordinary police officers as they go about their daily duties. These officers are able to self-authorise (i.e. make their own decisions as to when to use the weapons) and operate to a much lower threshold (any "potentially violent" situation) than the existing firearms units.

Amnesty has repeatedly highlighted that the Strathclyde pilot has not been authorised by Ministers and that the appropriate steps to ensure that the pilot adheres to human rights standards have not been taken.

John Watson, Amnesty International’s Scottish Programme Director, said:

"It seems that the Home Office agree with us that the law requires political scrutiny and approval before further deployment of firearms to police officers can take place. That scrutiny should also take account of human rights standards and the Strathclyde Police Taser pilot fails on both counts.

"The Scottish Government suggest that police forces are not bound by restrictions in the 1968 Firearms Act and so can issue themselves with Tasers, shotgun Tasers and indeed any other firearms they like. Our legal advice concluded that this is ‘wholly unsupportable in law’".

Amnesty International believes that Tasers have a role to play in modern policing, but that the appropriate place for firearms is in the hands of appropriately trained Firearms Officers rather than with ordinary officers on the beat.

Background information

1) The inquest story can be found on BBC news and Sky news

2) Further information on Amnesty International’s concerns over the Strathclyde Taser pilot /p>

3) Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Kenny McAskill, most recently outlined his position in response to questions in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 1st July /p>

4) While Firearms legislation is reserved to Westminster, powers to authorise firearms deployments in Scotland were devolved to Scottish Ministers in 1998.

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