Peers are to discuss an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill on whether to ban the use of Taser firearms against people detained on locked psychiatric wards in the House of Lords this week.
The tabling of the amendment, in support of human rights campaigns group Back Mental Health UK's (BMH UK) demand for the ban on Taser use, is set out in amendment 194 to the Policing and Crime Bill, which will be among the issues debated in Day 3 of committee stage of the Policing and Crime Bill in the House of Lords on November 2.
BMH UK's campaign demands have secured cross-party support with Liberal Democrat, Labour and cross-bench peers adding their names to the amendment.
The human rights campaign group has been lobbying for a change in the law, in a bid to ensure that the protections set out in the United Nations (UN) convention against Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment are made a reality for those detained by the state in psychiatric hospitals.
A fact-finding mission by a UN committee to the UK in 2013 voiced concern at the roll out of Tasers and warned in their final report that Taser firearms are inadmissible in a place where there is a deprivation of liberty. BMH UK point to locked hospital wards as a prime example of this and are calling on the government to accept amendment 194 into law.
Other reforms that BMH UK is calling for in this Bill include:
• A ban on police presence on psychiatric wards – to end the culture of using a forensic response to a clinical emergency that criminalises the vulnerable. Evidence shows one trust alone has called the police more than 600 times in just one year
• Statutory right to an independent legal advocate before detention under the Mental Health Act to bring the protections of this group in line those of people held in other custodial or detained settings who have the right of a legal advocate
• Race equality principles to be added to the face of the Mental Health Act – in light of the discriminatory way in which this legislation is used against black people from the UK's African Caribbean communities highlighted in the David Bennett Inquiry report.
Peers will discuss amendments to Chapter 4 of the Bill which covers the governments changes to policing under the 1983 Mental Health Act.
Matilda MacAttram, director of BMH UK, said: “BMH UK welcome the House of Lords amendment for an outright ban of Taser firearms against patients detained in psychiatric hospitals tabled by Baroness Joan Warmsley. The Liberal Democrats supported our campaign to end this human rights abuse in the Commons and they have retabled this amendment again in the Lords.
“We know that these human right violations disproportionately impact on the lives of black people from the UK's African Caribbean communities, because even though there isn't a higher prevalence of mental illness amongst this group, they continue to be over represented on locked psychiatric wards.
“Taser guns are a firearm and, as such, BMH UK are of the view that they have no place in a clinical setting, this practice raises questions not only over proportional use of force, but also the lawful use of firearms against society's most vulnerable.
“The unequal power balance between those subject to such treatment and the culture of cover-up that dominates both the police and mental health sectors has silenced public debate around this issue.
“The cross-party support for this ban that BMH UK has lobbied for is welcome and we hope that amendment 194 is accepted by the government, so this kind of in human rights abuse against a vulnerable group is banned.”