Category: Pain-inducing restraint

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.

Government still undecided on pain-inducing restraint

The Government’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into solitary confinement and restraint in youth detention is published today. It shows that Ministers remain undecided about the Ministry of Justice’s policy of training custody officers to deliberately inflict pain on children – despite the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) concluding in February that the techniques are a form of child abuse which must be prohibited by law.

The Government says it will respond to the Committee’s recommendation that pain-inducing restraint be banned once it has considered the findings of a review by Charlie Taylor, which was launched in October 2018 following litigation by Article 39.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

When a public inquiry says that children are being abused as a result of government policy, it is incumbent on Ministers to take immediate action to change that policy and stop the mistreatment. We are coming up to five months since the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse recommended the prohibition of pain-inducing restraint, and we don’t even know whether Ministers want to remove these violent techniques let alone how they will go about training and supporting staff to eschew prison forms of control.

In April, the parliamentary committee urged the prohibition of pain-inducing restraint, which is part of the Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) system in use in juvenile young offender institutions (YOIs) and secure training centres (STCs).

MMPR is also followed by GEOAmey escort custody officers contracted to take remanded and sentenced children to and from YOIs, STCs and secure children’s homes.

Staff in secure children’s homes are prohibited from inflicting pain as a form of restraint. Pain-inducing restraint is also not permitted in health settings. At the end of last month, the Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care published non-statutory guidance on reducing restraint and restrictive interventions in children’s health, social care and special education settings. A key principle is that:

restraint is not used to punish or with the intention of inflicting pain, suffering or humiliation

Government guidance issued 27 June 2019 in respect of children’s health, social care and special education

Carolyne Willow adds:

Government departments focused on children’s welfare and health don’t allow staff to deliberately inflict pain. There is absolutely no justification for Ministers operating a separate set of values and child protection rules for children in custody.

There has been no public call for evidence to the Charlie Taylor review. Earlier this month, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published its letter to Charlie Taylor, which states:

… pain-inducing restraint techniques are a form of child abuse, violate children’s rights and must be prohibited.

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health letter to Charlie Taylor, 5 July 2019

Action taken on child’s note – nearly 14 years on

On 8 August 2004, 14 year-old Adam Rickwood was found hanging in his cell in a child prison run by Serco.

In addition to a note for his family, asking to be buried with his grandad, Adam left behind a statement explaining that officers had deliberately swiped his nose, and that he bled for nearly an hour.

Adam asked the officers what gave them the right to hit a child in the nose.

Today, nearly 14 years later, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) set out its plans for a new type of locked institution – the secure school.

The MoJ document says pain-inducing restraint will not be permitted.

The ‘nose distraction’ inflicted on Adam was an officially authorised restraint technique. It was withdrawn three years later from the privately-run secure training centres, and from all child prisons in 2010/11. But other pain-inducing restraint has continued.

Article 39 has been campaigning to end pain-inducing restraint since we first set up as a charity. With the backing of nearly 200 donors, we have been threatening to take the Ministry of Justice to court to get the authorisation of pain-inducing restraint lifted during children’s journeys to and from secure children’s homes. We believed we were on firm ground since the Department for Education prohibits pain-inducing restraint within secure children’s homes.

Today’s publication indicates the government department in charge of child prisons has finally conceded that allowing and training those who look after children to deliberately inflict severe pain as a form of restraint is unjustified.

Adam’s statement was published by the Guardian newspaper in June 2007.

Adam Rickwood's statement



Review of pain-inducing restraint

The Ministry of Justice is reviewing its authorisation of pain-inducing restraint by GEOAmey escort custody officers taking children to and from secure children’s homes and secure training centres.

This follows our threat of legal action.

Restraint techniques which deliberately inflict pain on children are banned in secure children’s homes. Yet escort custody officers employed by GEOAmey have been authorised and trained to deliberately inflict pain when taking children to and from secure children’s homes since mid-2016.

Article 39 ran a crowdfunder in the Summer to raise funds to be able to legally challenge the policy. Nearly 200 donors generously helped us defend the rights of children.

After we wrote to the Ministry of Justice, it examined restraint records and found there had been no reports of pain-inducing restraint by GEOAmey escort custody officers. To avert legal proceedings, it said it would consider the safety implications of removing the techniques.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“We welcome the review as a massive opportunity for the government to take positive action to protect the rights of very vulnerable children.

“Pain-inducing restraint is an abuse of children’s rights, dangerous and unjustified. It is already prohibited in other settings by the Department of Health and the Department for Education. Successive human rights bodies have told the UK to remove these brutal restraint methods.

“This is the first time the Ministry of Justice has shown itself open to removing pain-inducing restraint, albeit only in the escorting context, since the terrible death of 14 year-old Adam Rickwood.

“Adam was unlawfully restrained and inflicted with a severe assault to the nose, euphemistically called a ‘nose distraction’. Before he hanged himself in his cell at Hassockfield secure training centre, in 2004, he wrote explaining he had asked why staff were allowed to hit him in the nose and they told him it was restraint.

“This review could, at last, signal a move towards child-centred care.”

We urge organisations and individual experts to contribute evidence to the review by 22 December.

Please send your submission to us, and we will forward to the Ministry of Justice:
Subject heading – Pain-inducing restraint and escorts

Read our submission to the Ministry of Justice: Article 39 submission pain-inducing restraint 14 Dec 2017