Article 39 challenges Ministry of Justice over pain-inducing restraint

Children’s rights charity Article 39 is seeking a tribunal hearing over the Ministry of Justice’s refusal to release information showing why children in prison have been inflicted with pain-inducing restraint. Inspection reports consistently reveal that these brutal techniques are used in non-emergency situations or to make children follow orders.

A year ago, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said these techniques are a form of child abuse which must be prohibited by law. The Government has yet to respond to the public inquiry’s recommendation. Many other bodies – including the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, the UK’s Children’s Commissioners and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health – have said these practices must end.

Ministry of Justice statistics show that staff used authorised pain-inducing techniques on children 260 times in 2017/18. The precise details of what staff are trained to do, other than deliberately inflict pain on children, are not in the public domain. However, the names of the techniques broadly indicate what’s involved – ‘inverted wrist’, ‘outward rotation’, ‘wrist flexion’, ‘thumb flexion’ and ‘mandibular angle’. 

Article 39 made a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice, to elicit the “recorded reasons” for the 260 uses of pain-inducing restraint. The department’s restraint safeguarding policy states that this type of technique is subject to a “higher level of scrutiny” and is reviewed by a central team, which includes independent medical advisors. Despite this, the Ministry of Justice refused the FOI request, stating it does not centrally hold the “recorded reasons” for pain-inducing restraint. The Information Commissioner backed the refusal after Ministry of Justice officials told her they would have to contact each child prison and review records from fresh, which would take 85 hours. 

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“These techniques have no place in the care of children, and should have been banned a very long time ago. That the Ministry of Justice continues to authorise them and collects statistics on how often they’re used but apparently not why they‘re used is unbelievable. The department’s safeguarding policy rightly indicates that these are very grave techniques which must be subject to rigorous scrutiny. 

“If the safeguarding policy is being followed, the data should be to hand and must be released. Alternatively, if there is no central review of the reasons why officers are causing severe pain to children, then the department should explain when and why it stopped following its own published policy and how it is meeting its duty of care and human rights and equality obligations towards children without such monitoring.”

In October 2018, the Ministry of Justice commissioned the Chair of the Youth Justice Board, Charlie Taylor, to undertake an independent review of the use of pain-inducing restraint. His report is understood to have been submitted to Ministers last summer. Its publication, with the government’s response, has been subject to a number of delays.

Carolyne Willow adds:

“When the current system of restraint in child prisons was launched in 2012, many strongly opposed the inclusion of pain-inducing techniques. Instead, we had a fanfare of promises that the techniques would be used rarely and that they would be subject to rigorous monitoring and scrutiny. We’ve known for a long time that pain infliction is an entrenched form of control in child prisons, and now we’re told it will take civil servants 85 hours to find out why they’re used. This is basic child protection; the information should be at their fingertips.”  

Charlie Taylor’s review of pain-inducing restraint followed the start of legal proceedings by Article 39, which is challenging the authorisation of pain-inducing techniques during children’s journeys to secure children’s homes. Staff working in children’s homes are prohibited from using such techniques. 

Article 39 is also challenging the absence of any regulation around when restraint may be used during children’s journeys to custody, and is seeking confirmation that children aged 11 and below will not be subject to prison restraint techniques which were developed for those aged 12 to 17.


1.      Article 39 is represented by Mark Scott, Partner at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, and Dan Squires QC and Tamara Jaber from Matrix Chambers.

2.      The Information Commissioner’s Office Decision Notice can be found here

3.      Article 39 submitted its appeal to the ICO Decision Notice last week.

4.      The restraint safeguarding policy can be found here (see page 14).

5.      The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s recommendations (dated 28 February 2019) can be found here.

6.      In 2004, a 14 year-old child, Adam Rickwood, hanged himself hours after being unlawfully restrained, including through the use of a pain-inducing technique (the ‘nose distraction’). He left behind a note explaining that he had asked officers what gave them the right to hit a child in the nose, and they called it restraint. Four months before Adam died, another boy – 15 year-old Gareth Myatt – died after losing consciousness while being forcibly held down in a seated restraint position. Officers ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe. Both boys were detained in secure training centres. An independent review of restraint was established, and its report published in 2008. This noted that “Almost all submissions to the review passionately argued against the use of any pain in restraint except in life-threatening situations. They supported the abolition of any restraint method which deliberately inflicted pain…”.

7.   In 2008, the Court of Appeal found that the use of restraint on children for non-compliance (‘good order and discipline’) in secure training centres is a breach of their right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment. The judgment can be found here.

Guardian newspaper report here.