Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Tasers---Mission Creep and Abuse of Human Rights

It was almost 7 years ago when Deputy Gerard Baudains asked a question of the Minister of Home Affairs about the possibility of the States of Jersey Police being armed with Taser Guns.

Two years ago the Taser issue again came into the public domain when the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel decided to scrutinise the desirability of the Home Affairs Minister’s intention to approve the purchase of Tasers as an addition the States Police’s armoury.

At that time I published two Blogs whereby I raised a number of concerns which received a number of  comments. The Blogs can be accessed below.

I was the founder and am a member of the Jersey Human Rights Group and naturedly had an interest in the matter and our Group made written and oral submissions to the Scrutiny Panel. The Panel subsequently published a report in which it identified 8 key findings and 20 recommendations.

The Home Affairs Minister recently lodged a proposition P18/2014 seeking States approval to endorse his intention to authorise the deployment and use of Taser Guns by the States Police in accordance with a number principles. These principles were pretty much in line with what the Jersey Human Rights Group and others had recommended. They are really safeguards to prevent abuse when deploying Tasers.

It was a case of taking a pragmatic approach because the States Police already has a wide range of firearms in its armoury and they did not require States approval to purchase Tasers. I believe there are few people; police included who wish to see police officers kitted out with firearms as seen in some countries around the world. Therefore it is to be hoped that Tasers and other guns will remain firmly locked in the armoury and only deployed as a very last resort.

In support of the case for Tasers I was amused at some of reasons put forward by the Minister, Senator Le Marquand who was the same Minister who defended the disgraceful suspension of the former police chief Graham Power and who released the Wiltshire Report but denied Mr Power the right of a Hearing. Where were Senator Le Marquand’s concerns for Human Rights? And more recently where were his concerns for Human Rights in relation to the arrest, detention and deportation of the lady in the Jersey Dean case.

Senator Le Marquand was of the view that Tasers are urgently required to allow for the States Police to comply with the Human Rights (Jersey) Law 2000. In his opinion the absence of Tasers in the police armoury renders the police and therefore the States of Jersey potentially vulnerable to a claim arising from the Human Rights Law.

National guidance on the management, deployment and command of Armed Officers requires that every action taken, including the issues of firearms and Tasers, be proportionate, lawful, appropriate and necessary to the prevailing circumstances and must be the least intrusive means of resolution. This therefore requires the complete compliance with the Human Rights (Jersey) Law 2000 and the European Convention of Human Right Article 2. The absence of Tasers in Jersey, arguably, does not allow for compliance with this stance.

The above paragraph can be found in the P18/2014 below. I found it an interesting comment and well worth a second read and in particular noting the last sentence were the word “arguably” appears. It is also of interest to note that the Solicitor General was not asked for a view because he is often asked for one when a Backbencher argues that a particular proposal he/she is proposing would render the States to a Convention challenge if the proposal was not approved.

If a Backbencher had brought the proposition which was not supported by the Home Affairs Minister it is highly likely that he would have opposed it on the grounds that “arguably” it was not a Convention breach and would have sought support from the Solicitor General as evidenced in his successful opposition to the removal of Jurats from the Visitors Panel at La Moye Prison.

It may well be that Tasers are less lethal than conventional firearms but they are lethal and the public is also entitled to their Human Rights. They will not be enamoured to learn that the Human Rights Law is being used as justification for Tasers being used against them .It could be “argued” that whilst Tasers are less lethal than some of the weapons in the police armoury, there are also less lethal weapons than Tasers which could be used, such as truncheons, batons, CS gas or even just being talked out of a situation.

Tasers are just part of a mission creep approach away from traditional policing and the Human Rights Law should not be used to justify their introduction.

One further piece of information that came to light was the lowering of the bar when it comes to justification for the deployment of firearms. The former wording stated that a firearms authority could be granted if a person is, “in possession of, or has access to a firearm.” The revised national authorisation wording now sets an authorisation criteria when a person is “in possession of, or has access to a firearm or any other potentially lethal weapon.”

It is another example of mission creep which will now allow for armed police to be deployed in circumstances where a suspect may be in possession of a screw driver or similar tool that can be interpreted "for lethal use."

One of the reasons why it has taken nearly 7 years for the Minister to lodge the proposition was because of export restrictions between the UK and Jersey for Tasers. The UK had an export ban for such weapons to over seas territories until it was lifted in 2012. It does seem strange that it was legal to export lethal weapons such as high powered rifles and pistols yet illegal to export less lethal weapons like Tasers.

It was claimed that Jersey was the only place in the UK where there was a ban on Tasers. That should a record that the Island should be proud of. One record the Island can be proud of is that our Police have never had cause to fire at anyone. It is to be hoped that the record will not be broken in the mistaken belief that Tasers are supposedly less lethal and do not kill anyone. Whilst it was claimed that no has been shot dead by a Taser, never the less people have died as a result of being shot by one. It matters not whether it was a direct hit that killed you or as a consequence of being hit. Once dead you stay dead.

The States Members heavily supported Senator Le Marquand’s proposition. One is now left to wonder how soon Tasers will be deployed in Jersey.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Independent Jersey Care Inquiry-- Preliminary Hearing

Three years after the States approved P19/2011 as amended to establish a Committee of Inquiry into allegations of abuse by young people in States care, a Preliminary Hearing was held at the St Paul's Centre this morning.

The fifty plus attendees received a very slick and professional 50 minute presentation from the Chair of the Inquiry, Frances Oldham QC who was accompanied by fellow members Alyson Leslie and Professor Sandy Cameron along with their legal team and administrators.

The presentation was filmed and it can seen on HERE  along with the transcript. The website also displays a number of documents including Inquiry Protocols relating to Legal Representation, General Procedure, Media Conduct, Providing Evidence to Inquiry and Protective Measures. Would be witnesses and other interested people are recommended to read the protocols because there are time restrictions for those wishing to partake in the Inquiry.

Given the lengthy presentation which included going through the Terms of Reference one would have hoped that Mrs Oldham would have allowed for a short time to answer questions, however it was not to be. Much was made of the Inquiry being truly independent and that it had been set up to establish what went wrong in the care system over many years and to find answers for people who suffered abuse as children. I hope that the inquiry will interpret the care system as including educational establishments such as Victoria College.

The Inquiry will be known as “Independent Jersey Care Inquiry,” had there been time allowed for questions I would have like to have asked how independent the Committee was going to be. It is hoped that unlike those involved with the Bishop of Winchester’s Visitation the Panel will not be having coffee with the Chief Minister, biscuits with the Bailiff and cocktails at Government House.

Who is the Committee accountable to, who will it present its report to, will be the report be published without redactions and when presented will it be in the public arena and time allow for questions?

During the 50 minute presentation I was interested to hear that in 1970 Haut de la Garenne was inspected by two UK Home Office Children’s Department Inspectors. Later in 1981 a similar inspection took place into other child care establishments. This is the first time I had learnt of the visits and one wonders why they were not mentioned by Ministers during the States debate to establish a Committee of Inquiry when they worked so hard to oppose the proposition.

Mrs Oldham said that the panel will examine the visits and establish whether recommendations were in fact implemented. Given that many allegations were made from victims who were in care during that time, one wonders whether the recommendations were implemented and was this why no reference was made to the visits during the debate.

It is as a result of a lot of hard and persistent work by a small but dedicated group of people that the Committee of Inquiry has been established. This morning was just the beginning and it is evident that the Panel has already started its work.

The Terms of Reference will give the Panel the power to require Departments to provide documents and to account for them and their acts or omissions. The Panel has the tools to do the job, it is independent and this morning it certainly gave the impression of being professional and efficient. It is now down to those who have a tale to tell to come forward. There might never be another chance so I really hope that the opportunity is not lost.

I have previously published blogs on the Establishment of the Committee of Inquiry and related matters which can be found below;

30th October 2010 Savile, Skeletons in the cupboard

6th November 2012 Jersey Historic abuse Inquiry  One small step

28th November 2012 Jersey Historic Abuse Inquiry  Possible Amendments

1st March 2013 No stone left unturned.

15th March 2013 The Nelson Touch