Category: Children in custody

Review calls for ban of pain-inducing restraint

The Ministry of Justice has today published a review of pain-inducing restraint which is authorised for use on children as young as 10 during their journeys to and from custodial institutions, and within child prisons. The review, led by the former Chair of the Youth Justice Board, Charlie Taylor, was set up after legal action by Article 39.

Charlie Taylor critiques the inclusion of pain-inducing restraint in the system in place since 2012, which is called MMPR (Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint):

“I believe that this places the use of pain-inducing techniques on a spectrum that makes it an acceptable and normal response rather than what [it] should be, the absolute exception.”

He said this “has contributed to the overuse of these techniques that I so frequently witnessed during this review”.

Charlie Taylor’s report makes 15 recommendations, including that:

  • The MMPR restraint training programme should be amended to remove the use of pain-inducing techniques from its syllabus (recommendation 7).
  • That pain is not permitted to be used to end long restraints – staff must always try letting go or changing the hold if a restraint is going on too long. The report recommends that there may, however, be emergency situations where the infliction of pain can be justified to prevent serious harm (recommendation 10).
  • The inverted wrist should only be used to gain control of strong and / or fully-grown children when there is no alternative and there is a risk of serious harm. Staff must move to a lower level hold as soon as possible (recommendation 12).
  • That staff be permitted to use a pain-inducing technique to prevent serious physical harm to either children or adults (recommendation 9).
  • Escort staff should no longer be able to use pain on children. However, Charlie Taylor recommends that there may be exceptional circumstances – when a member of staff is acting in self-defence and in an emergency – where pain may be justified (recommendation 14).

Taylor further recommends that restraint should not be permitted for ‘good order and discipline’ during children’s journeys to and from institutions – which was also part of Article 39’s legal challenge against the Ministry of Justice.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“This is a major milestone in child protection, one we have waited 16 years for since a young boy, Adam Rickwood, wrote a note questioning the legitimacy of pain-inducing restraint before he hanged himself in a Serco-run child prison. Adam was just 14 years-old. An officer inflicted a karate-like chop to his nose, using what was then an official restraint technique – the so-called ‘nose distraction’. He knew what was done to him was wrong, and asked the officers restraining him what gave them the right to hit a child in the nose. It has taken our legal action to finally bring some promise of justice for Adam and other children who have suffered needlessly over many years. 

“We need to see the detail of the legal protections which will be put in place to ensure pain-inducing restraint is genuinely prohibited, and that any emergency, self-defence use of pain complies with common law and the UK’s children’s human rights obligations. 

“There have been many in senior positions over the years who have sought to justify the inclusion of pain-inducing restraint in the MMPR system, and the programme that preceded it. I hope they will take this opportunity to reflect on why it has taken so long for detained children to be given, at least on paper, the same protection from these brutal techniques as their peers in health and social care settings.”

The Ministry of Justice has accepted all 15 recommendations.


In October 2018, following a successful crowd-funding appeal, Article 39 issued judicial review proceedings to challenge the Ministry of Justice’s policy of permitting the infliction of pain and unjustified restraint during children’s journeys to and from secure children’s homes. Children can be detained in these locked children’s homes from the age of 10.

Staff within the secure children’s homes are banned from using pain-inducing restraint. This form of restraint is similarly prohibited in other health and social care establishments.

As a result of our legal action, the government appointed Charlie Taylor, who was then Chair of the Youth Justice Board, to review the authorisation and use of pain-inducing restraint in child prisons (young offender institutions and secure training centres) and during detained children’s journeys to and from institutions. The High Court stayed our application for judicial review in January 2019, pending the outcome of Charlie Taylor’s review and an inquiry by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Meanwhile, on 28 February 2019, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), recommended:

“The Chair and Panel consider that the use of pain compliance techniques should be seen as a form of child abuse, and that it is likely to contribute to a culture of violence, which may increase the risk of child sexual abuse. The Chair and Panel recommend that the Ministry of Justice prohibits the use of pain compliance techniques by withdrawing all policy permitting its use, and setting out that this practice is prohibited by way of regulation.”

In April 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights repeated its call for pain-inducing restraint in child prisons to be banned. A letter from the Chair of the Committee clarified that its recommendation included children’s journeys to and from establishments.

Charlie Taylor’s report was completed and submitted to Ministers last July.

At the end of April 2020, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture repeated its 2009 recommendation “that the application of pain-inducing techniques on juveniles should be abolished in law and practice”. The United Nations Committee on Torture recommended in 2013 that the the UK ban the use of any technique designed to inflict pain on children.

Adam Rickwood photograph

What gives them the right to hit a child in the nose? – Adam Rickwood, aged 14 years
The devastating effects of pain-inducing restraint on children came to the public’s attention in 2004, when 14 year-old Adam Rickwood hanged himself in a child prison run by Serco. Adam had been unlawfully restrained and inflicted with the ‘nose distraction’ technique, which caused his nose to bleed for around an hour. Officers ignored his pleas to be taken to hospital. Before taking his own life, Adam wrote a note for his solicitor explaining that he had asked officers what gave them the right to hit a child in the nose. The technique was later withdrawn though officers continue to be trained and authorised to use other methods which cause children to suffer psychologically and physically.

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

Joint call for safe release of child prisoners

Earlier this month, Article 39 and others wrote to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC MP urging the release of children from prison wherever possible.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“Children need to be with their families or in care settings where their health and well-being can be secured and their fears and questions answered. It’s unconscionable that in a global pandemic a civilised society would keep hundreds of children incarcerated in institutions which in normal times are unable to keep them properly fed, safe and occupied. But this is not just about protecting children from serious harm; we’re also extremely worried about the risks to prison staff, their families and the wider community. These exceptional times demand standout political leadership across all parts of government: children who can be safely looked after in the community must be released.”

The Independent newspaper reported our joint letter here.

No reduction in use of prison custody for children

Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board over the Easter break show 9 out of 10 children in custody continue to be held in prison environments.

Data for 2016/17 shows 89% of children remanded or held in custody after sentencing were placed in either young offender institutions (YOIs) or secure training centres (STCs). This is the same proportion as last year. Both types of accommodation are modelled on adult prisons.

Of 863 children detained under criminal justice orders in February 2017, 609 were held in YOIs and 155 in STCs. Just 99 children were held in child-centred secure children’s homes run by local authorites or the voluntary sector.

Back in February, the Youth Custody Improvement Board recommended “a very clearly different approach to the current YOIs” and commented on the “appalling situation at Medway” STC – a reference to serious child abuse uncovered by BBC Panorama in the then G4S-run child prison.

Along with many other organisations, Article 39 believes children should only ever be detained in childcare environments, where staff are fully trained and supported to provide therapeutic care to the very small number who cannot be safely supported in the community. We believe the secure children’s home model provides the best basis from which to develop world-standard specialist secure provision.

We are deeply disappointed that the Government recently used the Children and Social Work Bill to change the law to allow children from England and Wales to be detained on welfare grounds in Scotland. We strongly lobbied against this change because it arose from dwindling provision rather than a strategic analysis of children’s needs and best interests. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, looked after children detained on welfare grounds in Scotland will lose their right to consent to placements outside England and Wales. Independent reviews have also been removed from these children.

Reliance on resources in Scotland for ‘welfare detention’ will inevitably threaten the viability of secure children’s homes generally. There has already been a 21% reduction in secure accommodation places in England across the past six years, from 293 in 2010 to 232 in 2016. Conversely, the Scottish Government has stated that the detention of children from England and Wales in Scotland will assist the financial viability of provision there, noting “The withdrawal of English placements would lead to a loss of income to one or more of the Scottish units, with the possibility it would force at least one provider into an early and unplanned closure”.

Ministry of Justice predicts no decrease in child prisoner numbers

Unless there are changes in law and/or government policy, the Ministry of Justice predicts there will be 700 boys incarcerated in young offender institutions every year between 2016 and 2020. Latest data shows there were 682 boys in young offender institutions in September 2015.

The official predictions mean England will continue to be one of the leading child incarcerators in the Western world. In 2013, the annual Council of Europe survey of prison populations in 47 member states found England and Wales was surpassed by only two countries, Russia and Turkey, in the number of children we imprison.

The annual prison population projections also predict girls will continue to be held in other settings, and that the number of female inmates aged 18-20 years will reduce by halve between 2016 and 2020 (from 200 to 100). No change is anticipated for males in this age group.

Read the official predictions here.

16 year-olds can be placed in secure accommodation

The High Court has confirmed that a 16 or 17 year-old who is being looked after by a local authority under Section 20(3) of the Children Act 1989 can, in principle, be admitted to secure accommodation.

Section 20(3) places a duty on local authorities to accommodate a child who has reached the age of 16 and whose welfare would be seriously prejudiced without such accommodation. The 1989 Act defines a child as a person under the age of 18.

Regulations relating to secure accommodation – children’s homes which deprive children in care of their liberty – specify that this kind of provision cannot be used with children and young people aged between 16 and 21 years, who have been placed in a children’s home as a means of safeguarding or promoting their welfare. However, this relates to Section 20(5) of the 1989 Act, which gives local authorities discretionary powers to accommodate young people into early adulthood.

The case before the High Court concerned a 16 year-old who was at that time detained in a mental health setting due to severe self-harm. The local authority sought clarification of their legal power to apply for a secure accommodation order once she was released from hospital, given she was now aged 16. The girl had been accommodated by the local authority since the age of 14.

Judge Bellamy said local authorities would be permitted to apply for a secure accommodation order in respect of 16 and 17 year-olds looked after under Section 20(3). So once the girl is released from hospital, the local authority can seek to place her in a secure children’s home.

There were 82 children held in secure accommodation on welfare grounds in England and Wales on 31 March 2015.

Read the judgment here.