Concerns have been raised over the appropriate use of electric stun guns (Tasers) by police forces across the UK after it was revealed they had been drawn, aimed or fired at mental health patients almost 100 times in a year.
Questions have quite rightly been asked as to whether the use such weapons against vulnerable people who have been seeking treatment in mental health hospitals could ever be appropriate or justified.
I certainly have major concerns over their use on this demographic of society, given the obvious traumatic impact, pain and further distress which can be caused to the patients involved.
That is not to say that I don’t believe that, in some cases, their use may have been proper and correct, and used in volatile situations where it was completely necessary in order to ensure the safety of all present, including the patient themselves.
What also concerns me is the lack of transparency over the matter, as only 28 police forces, about half of the total in the UK, provided figures on the use of stun guns on mental health patients as part of a freedom of information request.
According to The Guardian newspaper many – including the Met, West Midlands and Staffordshire – cited cost limits for why they could not respond.
Others said they were experiencing delays in responding to the request and were unable to say when a response would be provided.
This is despite the Home Office requesting that forces record such information including the outcome of stun gun use, as well as the ethnicity, age and whether the individual is perceived to be suffering from mental ill-health, to ensure they can provide full accountability and transparency over their use.
Police must be able to demonstrate use of stun guns was appropriate and right
The data provided from the 28 forces has shown that police officers in the UK used stun guns 96 times when called to hospitals and other mental healthcare facilities in the year from 1 April 2017.
The guns were fired 21 times, with a number of patients injured as a result.
The forces that used a stun gun the most were Avon and Somerset, drawing, aiming or firing it 18 times, and Greater Manchester police (GMP), which also used it 18 times, including on under-18s.
It was revealed that one patient who had a stun gun fired at them by Greater Manchester police was 16-years-old, whilst the force also pointed a stun gun on a 14-year-old patient.
Unfortunately the lack of openness and information provided across other UK forces can only lead people to assume there were many more circumstances of stun gun use.
Such actions must be open to full scrutiny for the public to have trust in police officers and feel confident that Government guidelines to only using them as a last resort are being followed.
It is imperative that in years to come, forces are open about their usage, and any significant increase in their use be examined and explained.
Unfortunately, in our work at Hudgell Solicitors, we do see many cases where police officers step over the line with regards their actions. We support many people in legal cases when officers have used avoidable, inappropriate actions when managing situations.
This ranges from officers using excessive force to wrongly detaining people who have done no wrong.
The wrongful use of a stun gun could well be found to be inappropriate and an example of using excessive force, so it is crucial that each occasion when such actions are taken against a mental health patient, the circumstances and reasoning are fully explained.
If that is not the case we could find ourselves in a worrying position as a society, where police forces are not being questioned and held fully accountable for their actions.
It is accountability and transparency which underpins our legal system and ensures public trust and confidence is not undermined.
This is central to our work here in Hudgell Solicitors’ civil liberties department when we are called upon to investigate the actions of police for our clients, and it is something we passionately believe each and every person deserves.