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Northern Ireland: Amnesty welcomes call for halt to use of spithoods & review of BLM prosecutions

Policing Board recommends spit hoods are withdrawn from use

Fines and prosecutions for Black Lives Matter protesters should also be reviewed

Amnesty now set to write to all UK police chiefs calling for spit hood suspension

‘The PSNI has failed to police the pandemic safely and fairly’ - Patrick Corrigan

Amnesty International has welcomed a report by the Northern Ireland Policing Board recommending an end to the use of spit hoods.

The oversight body has also said there should be a review of all fines, penalties and prosecutions as a result of the Police Service Northern Ireland’s (PSNI’s) controversial and potentially unlawful approach to Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year.

In June, following an admission by the PSNI that spit hoods would not prevent Covid-19 transmission, Amnesty warned that the application of the hood could increase the risk of infection for police officers, as well compromise the health of those suffering breathing difficulties as a result of the virus.

Amnesty believes that spit hoods should be withdrawn from use in Northern Ireland immediately.

Responding to the Policing Board report - “Review of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Response to Covid 19” - Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Director of Amnesty, said:

“In key respects, the PSNI has failed to police the pandemic safely and fairly.

“The Policing Board recommendations echo our calls to the PSNI leadership months ago, calls which regrettably went unheeded.

“Placing a hood over someone’s head is a significant use of force and one that raises key concerns over cruel and degrading treatment, as well as serious potential health risks. There is insufficient medical and scientific data concerning the actual risk to officers from spitting, and whether the use of such devices is proportionate and necessary.

“The Chief Constable rushed to deploy spit hoods without evidence that they are effective in preventing the transmission of Covid-19. Spit hoods must be withdrawn from use in Northern Ireland immediately”

“The police’s potentially discriminatory approach to policing BLM protests and other public gatherings seriously damaged community relations - damage which must now be repaired. No-one should be left with a criminal record for taking a peaceful, socially-distanced stand against racism.”

Spit hoods: risk vs protection

The Northern Ireland Policing Board is the only statutory body in the UK to have undertaken a human rights assessment into police deployment of spit hoods. Its conclusion that justification for their use has not yet been established to satisfy the necessary medical and human rights standards is alarming and of key significance for all police forces across the UK. These basic requirements should have been met by the PSNI prior to any decision to authorise the introduction of the devices to Northern Ireland.

Amnesty will be writing to senior police chiefs across the UK to urge that the use of spit guards is suspended in line with these recommendations.

Black Lives Matter targeted

In June, Amnesty criticised the PSNI’s decision to fine and prosecute scores of people involved in peaceful, socially-distanced Black Lives Matter protests in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry. Amnesty also asked that allegations of racial profiling be investigated.

In line with this, the Northern Ireland Policing Board report has recommended that the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service review all fines, penalties and prosecutions pending. The report also recommends that the PSNI hold discussions with BLM protest organisers on future co-operation “to ensure peaceful protests are facilitated and that both sides understand the positive obligations of the police and the key role of the organisers.” It has advised the PSNI to ask an independent body such as the Equality Commission to investigate whether there was discrimination in relation to the treatment of individuals during June’s protests.

Patrick Corrigan added:

“To be able to peacefully protest is a fundamental human right. We look forward to the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service now reviewing the fines and prosecutions against those participating in peaceful, safe protests, as part of a new approach to facilitating - not criminalising - peaceful protest.

“We would welcome an investigation by the Equality Commission into whether the policing of BLM protests was discriminatory.”

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