The EHRC challenged the use of PAVA spray in prisons and forced concessions from the Ministry of Justice.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is an independent organisation that have legal powers to challenge discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect human rights.
They funded a prisoner to bring a legal case against the Secretary of State for Justice’s decision to make PAVA spray available to prison officers in the adult male prison estate. PAVA spray is used as a defence tool to stop people resisting. It is sprayed into people’s eyes causing them to close and resulting severe pain. It is mainly used by police officers but there were plans to introduce it into prisons.
The EHRC was concerned that the Ministry of Justice had not thought about the impact that the policy would have on people who have mental health problems and learning disabilities. The policy was piloted in four prisons and there was evidence that there were significant risks of the spray being used unlawfully and that significant additional safeguards were needed to decrease the risk of the spray being used in a discriminatory way.
After the legal challenge was launched the Ministry of Justice completed a more detailed Equality Impact Assessment. This is a process used by public authorities to make sure that a policy, project or scheme does not discriminate against anyone with a protected characteristic for example race or disability.
It revealed disproportionate use of force in prisons against younger people, black people and Muslim people, which the Ministry of Justice was unable to explain. It also uncovered a serious lack of data about the use of force on disabled people in prisons and limited understanding of learning disabilities by prison staff.
The Ministry of Justice has agreed to change the way that they intend to introduce the spray including more robust guidance and training for prison officers using PAVA, monitoring the use of PAVA across the country, and involving prison race and equality liaison officers in reviews of the use of force in prisons. The prisons must demonstrate that they understand the trends in the use of force at their establishment before they will be signed off for PAVA.
The prisons must record race, disability and other protected characteristics and note any other individual vulnerabilities of prisoners who have force used on them. As the Ministry of Justice have agreed to make these changes the legal case has been stopped. However, the Ministry of Justice hasn’t published the Equality Impact Assessment or the guidance.
We welcome the action taken by the EHRC in funding this case. They have a really important job in safeguarding equality and human rights. This case highlights the importance of the Equality Impact Assessments to ensure that people with protected characteristics are protected. We would strongly urge the Ministry of Justice to publish both the Equality Impact Assessment and the guidance on the use of PAVA to provide greater transparency.