Friday, 19 June 2009

Thoughts on the use of Tasers

... and other 'less lethal' weapons.

Firstly let me make it clear that I am addressing the UK situation and, by implication, that within the rest of Europe as all (the democratic) states in Europe have incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into their systems.

The use of Tasers has been sold to the public as an alternative to an armed police force or providing armed police with a non-lethal alternative. As we have seen in practice 'non-lethal' is a bit of a misnomer, they are now classified as 'less lethal weapons'.

The manufacturers now claim this is not the case, they now tell the public* that Tasers are:


The Taser® (and any other less lethal option) is not an alternative to use of lethal force. It should be viewed a one of a number of tools or options that officers can use in the event that the circumstances allow for its reasonable use.

So when does the Law allow for its reasonable use?

According to the police the relevant law is contained within the following:

  • Section 3 Criminal Law Act 1967
    ‘A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention
    of crime, or in the effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected
    offenders or of persons unlawfully at large’

  • Section 117 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  • ‘Where any provision of this Act or Order
        (a) confers any power on a constable; and
        (b) does not provide that the power may only be exercised with the consent of some other person other than a police officer,
    the officer may use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of the

  • Common Law
    The Common Law has always recognised the right of self-defence.

  • The ECHR

    The most relevant parts of the ECHR are:

    Article 3 – Prohibition of torture
    No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

    Article 5 – Right to a fair trial
    Particularly that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law and that they be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

    Taken together this permits the use of Tasers to prevent crime or to make an arrest where it is reasonable to use that much force, i.e. not where a lesser amount of force would have achieved the same ends. It does not permit their use as a form of punishment or summary justice for failing to carry out an instruction or having committed a perceived prior offence.

    Thus Tasering cannot be used as a threat or as given a consequence of having punched a police officer, it may not be used repeatedly until someone is compliant.

    There are also the issues surrounding whether being Tasered in public is degrading or how much Tasering is required to be considered degrading.

    Certainly I would consider being made to writhe around on the ground degrading and as one of the consequences of repeated Tasering can be soiling oneself, courts may consider that to be a breach of Human Rights as they have seen forced incontinence a form of torture or inhuman punishment in the past.

    *What they tell, the police, I do not know as they restrict that information to Police Forces, the Military and relevant government departments only, if one clicks on Police Zone instead of Public Zone on their website they inform you that they have logged your IP for security purposes, how pleasant of them.

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