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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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.”