Child Rights Experts “Very Concerned” by PSNI Use of Force Statistics

19 June 2024

The Children’s Law Centre has expressed grave concern at the latest PSNI use of force statistics for the period April 2023 to March 2024. The statistics highlight how spit hoods have been used on children, including at least once on a child under the age of 13.

There has also been a sharp increase in the use of plastic bullets, with child rights experts highlighting the severe risk they pose to children and young people.

The Children’s Law Centre has pointed to the latest concluding observations and recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that call for measures to ‘explicitly prohibit, without exception, the use of harmful devices including spit hoods, plastic bullets, attenuating energy projectiles and other electrical discharge weapons against children.

Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Children’s Law Centre said: “These latest figures from the PSNI continue to leave us very concerned about significant rights breaches on children and young people who have been in contact with the police.

“The increased use of spit hoods on children is particularly worrying, especially as explicit guidance exists which sets out a presumption they should not be used on children at all.

“While there appears to be a lower number of individual children subject to force by the PSNI compared to last year, it is worrying that the figures seem to indicate that more children have been subject to multiple types of force.”

Mr McFerran continued: “It is also important to note what is missing from the statistics. They have not been fully disaggregated by the characteristics protected by Northern Ireland’s equality laws, such as community background and disability.

“The Children’s Law Centre has long-held concerns that uses of force disproportionately impacts children with additional needs, care experienced children and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“These latest statistics represent clear breaches of children’s rights and we will continue to raise our concerns with the NI Policing Board.”

Paddy Kelly, Director at the Children’s Law Centre said: “The sharp increase in the use of plastic bullets is shocking. The dangers posed to children by the use of plastic bullets has been clear for a very long time. Indeed, the tragic death of eight children due to plastic bullets is evidence enough.

“The Northern Ireland Policing Board should, as a matter of urgency, ensure the PSNI end the use of Plastic Bullets against children in compliance with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s repeated recommendations.”

Claire Kemp, Policy Officer at the Children’s Law Centre added: “The overuse of Stop and Search powers on children and young people also continues, with 2089 children stopped and searched in the last reporting year, including 56 children aged 12 or under. Of the 2089 children stopped, 74 were subsequently arrested – equating to just 3.7% of an outcome rate.”

The latest use of force statistics can be found at

In January 2023, the NI Policing Board published a Human Rights Review of the PSNI’s Use of Force following calls from the Children’s Law Centre and human rights organisations.

The most recent stop and search statistics can be found at

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s concluding observations can be found at (the recommendation on the use of spit hoods and plastic bullets is at 30(a) on page 9 of the report.

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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.”

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