The recent Law Society public debate about the use of Tasers and human rights was well timed as there has been a dramatic increase in the use of Tasers across the country, especially on the vulnerable. This needs to be addressed.
In Kent, 50% of Taser use is on those suffering from mental health disorders. OpenWorld News recently investigated the use of Tasers on children and revealed the story of a 12-year-old girl from St Helens who had been Tasered by Merseyside Police in 2011. Children fall within a specific risk group, which means that Tasers should be used on them only if there is no other feasible method to restraint them. This is a hard test to satisfy.
Others also fall within the specific risk group – the elderly, those suffering from epilepsy and pregnant women. I represent a number of clients who have been Tasered. Their challenges are based on assault and battery, but also on the basis that their human rights have been breached, specifically article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights – that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
One of my clients is also claiming a breach of article 2 of the ECHR, that everyone has the right to be protected. He suffered a cardiac arrest after being Tasered. To my knowledge this is the first case where article 2 is being brought in the context of Taser use in the UK.
Of course, many of the individuals who have been Tasered complain to their police forces. However, it seems that no steps are being taken to address the misuse in those cases. The lack of investigation or inadequate investigation could in itself be a breach of human rights legislation, as public bodies are under an obligation to carry out a full and proper investigation when complaints are made.
The local investigations carried out by the Directorate of Professional Standards at the Metropolitan Police and the professional standards departments in county forces are just that – ‘local’. There is no independent oversight into these investigations and, in my view, they are not compliant under human rights legislation. One must also consider whether Taser training itself complies with the requirements of human rights legislation. There is a requirement on the state that law enforcement officers should receive clear and precise instructions as to the manner and circumstances in which they should make use of Tasers.
Putting that into context, does a three-day course plus a one day annual refresher suffice? This year alone, there has been a significant increase in the number of Taser-trained officers in forces across the country. In Cambridgeshire, 120 extra officers are receiving specialist training. In February, Sussex Police announced that there will be 160 extra officers armed with a Taser, and the number of officers issued with a Taser in Thames Valley Police will rise from 205 to 485.
In London, the commissioner has also increased the number of Tasers, and currently there is a judicial review challenge against his ‘Taser roll-out programme’. It can be argued that specialist trained officers are receiving human rights-compliant training. But the same cannot be said of non-specialist officers, such as response teams who are not exposed to the same level of training provided to firearms and public order officers. As this is one of the issues before the High Court, I will leave it to the judiciary to decide whether Taser training is compliant with human rights legislation.
Turning to the question of the debate, ‘Does Taser use breach fundamental human rights?’, in my opinion there is a potential breach of the human rights legislation.
Sophie Khan, solicitor-advocate at MW Solicitors, was a panel speaker at the Law Society Public Debate Series