Treatment of Asylum Seeking Children is “Cruel, Unnecessary and Avoidable”

20 June 2022

Speaking out on ‘World Refugee Day’ the Children’s Law Centre (CLC) and South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP) have said the treatment of asylum-seeking children and their families in ‘contingency accommodation’ settings is “cruel, unnecessary and avoidable”.

The two organisations had recently published a report highlighting the lived circumstances of asylum-seeking children and their families being accommodated in ‘contingency accommodation’.

The report, jointly submitted upon request to the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, highlights a number of potential rights breaches. The report was also endorsed by four other organisations – Conway Education Centre, Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR), Barnardo’s Northern Ireland and South Belfast Sure Start.

Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at CLC, said: “We are deeply concerned about the reports coming from residents who are living in ‘contingency accommodation’ settings and the community and voluntary sector organisations providing emergency support to them. The experiences of vulnerable children in particular are very worrying. We believe there are significant children’s rights breaches occurring and urgent, joined-up action is required to prevent these from continuing.

“We have been working alongside a number of organisations to call for action. This must include duty bearers working together urgently to address any rights breaches, and listening to those affected, namely residents, to co-ordinate an effective response.

“Beyond that, the ‘hostile environment’ created by the UK Home Office must end. It is driving refugees and asylum seekers into destitution and ill health, rather than allowing them to contribute positively to society. However, in the meantime, duty bearers cannot hide behind the Home Office and must continue to uphold key rights.”

Bernadette McAliskey, CEO at STEP, added: “The treatment of residents living in ‘contingency accommodation’ settings is cruel, unnecessary and avoidable. Asylum seeking children have rights that must be upheld. Yet, it is deeply worrying to hear reports of new mothers who cannot get access to basic goods and equipment to care for their babies, or families who have had their access to recreational activities severely curtailed. It is also clear that access to education has been severely limited, with no effective overarching strategy evident to address this.

“We will continue to work alongside other organisations to raise these issues and give a voice to asylum-seeking children and their families. We need to see urgent and co-ordinated action to address the failures and uphold the rights of those affected.”

Read More

Call to End ‘Dangerous’ Spit Hood Use Amid Fears Chief Constable Plans to Make them Permanent

16 June 2022

Human rights and children’s organisations in Northern Ireland are calling on the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to stop the use of controversial spit hoods, also known as spit and bite guards, ahead of an expected move to make their use permanent.

Amnesty International, Children’s Law Centre, the Committee on the Administration of Justice and Include Youth say the continued use of spit and bite guards may be in breach of equality legislation and therefore be unlawful.

The mesh hoods, designed to be placed over detainees’ heads, were ‘temporarily’ introduced in March 2020 as an emergency Covid measure. But subsequently the chief constable backtracked, accepting there is no medical evidence that the hoods prevent the virus’s spread.

Image read: The introduction of spit and bite hoods. 1) Spit hoods 'temporarily' introduced as an emergency covid measure, despite lack of evidence; 2) Human rights and children's groups say spit hoods may be unlawful; 3) PSNI refusing to publish public consultation findings on the equality impact of spit hoods

The joint call comes a year after a public consultation on the spit hoods’ equality impact – the PSNI has so far refused to publish the findings. Previous equality screening data from the police shows a disproportionate use of spit hoods on people with disabilities and on people from a Catholic community background and also revealed their use on children.

According to PSNI data, between 16 March and 31 December 2020, spit hoods were used 84 times: 81% against people with a disability, including a mental health disability, and 48% against people from a Catholic community background compared to 20% against people from a Protestant community background.

A response to a subsequent freedom of information request by the Children’s Law Centre revealed that from 16 March 2020 to 11 November 2021, spit hoods were used 16 times on under-18s, despite a policy against their use on children.

Even though the Northern Ireland Policing Board recommended their immediate phasing out in its November 2020 reportReview of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Response to Covid 19,  PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has instead expanded their use, issuing spit hoods to 4,000 additional police officers. The Policing Board has now called for the devices only to be used under stringent conditions.

In February 2022, the Policing Board published a review of their use, issuing 21 recommendations for the PSNI to adopt and implement. To date, the Chief Constable has not made clear whether the PSNI will adopt and implement any of the Policing Board’s recommendations.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said: “The Chief Constable rushed to deploy spit hoods with zero evidence that they prevent the transmission of Covid-19. Then he doubled down on that flawed decision, in defiance of the Policing Board, issuing them to thousands more officers. Now we fear that he is about to attempt to make their use a permanent feature of policing in Northern Ireland, despite the Policing Board’s and civil society groups’ serious human rights concerns.

“The police have not met the threshold for the necessity and proportionality for this type of use of force. Given serious concerns around potentially dangerous physical and mental impacts, particularly on vulnerable groups, spit hoods need to be withdrawn from use.”

Paddy Kelly, Director of the Children’s Law Centre, said: “The Children’s Law Centre is extremely concerned that spit and bite guards have been regularly applied to children since their introduction.  We are further alarmed at how little care has been taken to adhere to the PSNI’s own equality duties throughout the past number of years regarding their use.

“The PSNI introduced spit hoods without undertaking an equality impact assessment and have now failed to publish the equality impact assessment results a full year on from it being conducted. We believe their ongoing use is unlawful as well as being in breach of human rights obligations.

“Their use on children is even more concerning given that children who come in contact with police are more likely to have a disability, mental ill-health or a learning disability.  It is unclear how a police officer using a spit hood on a child can know if a child has a learning disability or suffers from serious mental ill health. Indeed, early analysis shows that protected groups are more likely to be adversely impacted by the practice. Their use should cease immediately.”

Read More

Restraint and Seclusion Recommendations Welcome, Implementation Essential

25 April 2022

The Children’s Law Centre (CLC) has welcomed a report by the Department of Education reviewing the use of restrictive practices in education settings. The report makes six recommendations, including repeal of Article 4 (1)(c) of the Education (NI) Order 1998 and outlines the need for statutory guidance.

Legal experts at CLC also welcomed the recognition of children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) within the report, as well as the collaborative work undertaken to consult with stakeholders. A key issue at this stage is the extent of the legislative reform required to ensure compliance with human rights standards within education settings.

Special education needs and disability expert, Rachel Hogan, said: “I would like to pay tribute to the small group of committed individuals who have consistently built pressure to address this issue. That includes, most notably, children, young people and the parents and carers of the children and young people affected. This is what happens when the people affected have their voice heard by decision makers and should be an important lesson on how good, evidence-based, decisions can be made.

“There can be no doubt that the existing framework and guidance has led to instances where the human rights of vulnerable children have been seriously violated. The grievous impact this has had on the children affected, as well as their parents and carers, has now been brought into the public domain and acknowledged.

“There has been a notable lack of consistency in approach between education and health and social care settings and this must be fully addressed. Children should have equal protection from the unlawful and disproportionate use of restrictive practices regardless of the setting they find themselves in.

“The recommendations in the report reflect the direction of travel we need to take to protect children in education settings. This includes the urgent need for legislative reform, clear statutory guidance and monitoring practices. CLC is pleased to have had the opportunity to feed in to the report through the Department of Education’s reference group and the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People’s advisory group.

“Effective and timely implementation of the recommendations is now key. The young people affected, and the parents and carers who have fought for change, all deserve to see progress. We cannot continue to allow children’s rights to be breached in this way. The current framework has fallen well short of international human rights standards and this is the first step towards addressing that. “CLC looks forward to ongoing engagement on the implementation of positive change to realise and protect the legal rights of children and young people in education settings.”

Read a report on the recommendations by thedetail.tv

Read More

‘Build Back Better’ with Children at the Heart of a Bill of Rights

29 April 2021

A Bill of Rights, with the inclusion of specific children’s rights, underpinned by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), could be transformative for children in Northern Ireland. It holds the possibility to address decades of failure for our children and young people, creating a framework for a brighter future.

Watch the Children’s Law Centre present evidence to the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights

The list of issues facing children in Northern Ireland was recently highlighted in an NGO stakeholder report to the UNCRC Committee. The report illustrated how decades of systemic failure around children’s rights have had a devastating impact on children’s lives, with COVID-19 further exacerbating problems. However, a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland would provide the perfect opportunity to build back better for children and wider society.

After presenting evidence to the NI Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights, Children’s Law Centre Director, Paddy Kelly, said:

“At the Children’s Law Centre, we firmly believe that a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland could provide a new dawn for children here. It could build on general rights protections in the Human Rights Act by incorporating child specific rights as laid out by the UNCRC, rights the UK has already signed up to but remain unenforceable.

“We could see age discrimination legislation finally enacted. It could give a voice to children in care, and it could protect children from harm. Every child should have the opportunity to reach their full potential. A Bill of Rights, with specific child rights provision, could achieve that.”

Read our written briefing to the Ad Hoc Bill of Rights Committee

The Children’s Law Centre’s Director continued: “There can be no doubt that children’s rights in Northern Ireland have fallen behind and children have come to harm because of this. The results are plain for everyone to see over the past year, where Covid has exposed a weak framework of protections. There could be no better way to begin building back better than by strengthening the rights protections for our future generations.

“We have the blueprint. The UK is already a signatory to the world’s most celebrated and most complete statement on children’s rights ever produced, containing civil, political, socio-economic and cultural rights. Let’s prove our commitment to these principles, and to our children and young people, by incorporating the UNCRC in to law through a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

“Where we’ve fallen behind in the past, let’s now lead the way.”

Notes: The Children’s Law Centre would like to thank Ms Moyne Anyadike-Danes for joining Paddy Kelly in presenting to the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights. The Children’s Law Centre are privileged to have worked closely over many years with Ms Anyadike-Danes in the vindication of children’s rights. She is one of the leading children’s law experts in the jurisdiction. We would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Ms Anyadike-Danes and her colleague Junior Counsel Nick Scott BL in the preparation of CLC’s written submission to the Ad Hoc Committee.

Read More

Chief Constable criticised for spit hoods roll-out in defiance of policing board

04 March 2021

The Children’s Law Centre, Amnesty International, CAJ and Include Youth wrote to Doug Garrett, chair of the Policing Board, ahead of their meeting on Thursday 4 March, to ask the Board what steps they are taking to ensure their clear recommendation that all spit hoods by withdrawn by the end of 2020 is followed.

In November 2020, the Northern Ireland Policing Board recommended their immediate phasing out in its report, Review of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Response to Covid 19.

Instead, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has started distributing spit hoods to 4,000 additional police officers.

New figures show that, to date, the PSNI has used spit hoods 95 times. They were used on children (aged 10 to 17) eight times.

In 81% of cases (68 out of 84 incidents) of their use by the PSNI in 2020, spit hoods were used on people with disabilities.

The figures have come to light in a document published as part of a PSNI equality impact assessment launched this week, almost a year after the introduction of the devices.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:

“The decision to roll out spit hoods, rather than withdraw them from use as advised by the Policing Board, is shocking.

“It is disturbing that in more than eight out of ten incidents, the PSNI has used spit hoods on people with disabilities and, on eight occasions, on children.

“The Chief Constable rushed to deploy spit hoods without evidence that they are effective in preventing the transmission of Covid-19. Now he is doubling down on that flawed decision, in outright defiance of the Policing Board.

“Placing a hood over someone’s head is a significant use of force and one that raises key concerns over cruel and degrading treatment, as well as serious potential health risks.

“These devices must be withdrawn from use, as called for by the Policing Board.”

Paddy Kelly, Director of the Children’s Law Centre, said:

“The Children’s Law Centre are extremely concerned that eight spit and bite guards were applied to children during the last year. In the cases of one 16 year-old and one 15 year-old, two spit and bite guards were applied during the same incident. This use of force must have been a frightening experience for these children.

“Their use on children is even more concerning given that children who come in contact with police are more likely to have a disability, mental ill-health or a learning disability. A police officer using a spit hood on a child cannot know if a child has a learning disability or suffers from asthma.

“In the light of medical evidence that the use of spit and bite hoods may increase the risk of Covid-19 infection to both police and members of the public, there can be absolutely no justification for their use on children. Spit and bite guards should be withdrawn in compliance with the Policing Board’s report of November 2020.

“We and other civil society organisations have now written to the Policing Board to ask them what steps they are taking to ensure their clear recommendation that all spit hoods by withdrawn by the end of 2020 is followed.”