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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Scotland: Lawyers take aim at police Tasers

June 27, 2010
Gareth Rose, The Scotsman

LAWYERS have warned ministers and senior police officers that introducing Taser stun guns to fight crime could expose police officers using them to prosecution.

Strathclyde Police are currently conducting a trial into the use of the electronic guns, which are mainly deployed to prevent assaults on officers.

But lawyers are now challenging assertions that police officers have official immunity from prosecution in cases where the use of the weapons is disputed. Human rights solicitor Tony Kelly, a partner with Taylor and Kelly in Lanarkshire, said he would "most definitely" consider taking a case on behalf of a Taser victim. He also cast doubt on claims that officers using Tasers would have "Crown immunity".

"There are questions over their lawful use and lawful possession because of the strange way this pilot was set up, with no specific authority by ministers.

And I have spoken to quite a few lawyers who have the same opinion as me on this."

Tasers were issued to 30 beat officers in Glasgow city centre, Rutherglen and Cambuslang – areas with a high number of police assaults – last month as part of the first trial of the weapon in Scotland. The weapons, which deliver a 50,000 volt shock, are likely to be deployed across the country if the trial is successful.

It emerged last week that Strathclyde Police Authority had received official opinion from the Scottish Government that the police in Scotland do not require ministerial approval to possess or use Tasers because of the effect of the principle of Crown immunity.

Amnesty International says it is not opposed to Tasers being used where necessary, but is critical of the way the pilot has been introduced without a vote in the Scottish Parliament.

It claims the three days' training given to Strathclyde police officers who took part in the pilot is insufficient.

John Watson, Scottish programme director for Amnesty International, said: "You don't have things like this happening without public engagement.

"But Strathclyde Police are unilaterally going ahead without it. We know lawyers are interested in the implications if someone is Tasered by an officer on this pilot scheme.

"There is a very strong case to take legal action, regardless of what they have done. I'm very clear this pilot is unlawful. I believe if someone was Tasered they would win." Watson said Amnesty has no objections to Tasers being used by trained firearms officers but not being "classed as defence equipment where everyone has one".

"We've done a lot of research in other countries where Tasers are part of the police's equipment, such as the US, Canada, and Australia, and it's shoot first, ask questions later."

Specially trained officers in England and Wales have been able to use Tasers since December 2008, following a 12-month trial in ten forces. They can only be used by officers in such danger that they need to use force to defend themselves.

The guns, which are designed to incapacitate, have been linked to nearly 300 deaths in Canada and America.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government has no role in either the authorisation or use of Tasers and as such cannot envisage any circumstances in which it would be liable for compensation."

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