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Handcuffs – Who can use them?


Handcuffs – Who can use them?

I recently spoke to a Door Supervisor who operates in a city in the Midlands, exchanging stories of our experiences and working practices. I asked him about the use of handcuffs by Door Supervisors in the city and in particular how Police Officers reacted to Door Supervisors carrying cuffs. He explained that handcuffs are not allowed by private security personnel in the city and Police Officers confiscated cuffs from Door Supervisors.

Worryingly, he explained that one Saturday night while on duty a Police Officer confiscated his cuff key, used to lock and unlock the cuffs, leaving him with just the handcuffs. Later that evening a Police Inspector confiscated the handcuffs explaining that only Police Officers were allowed to carry and use handcuffs.

Is this the case? Are only Police Officers and those involved in law enforcement allowed to carry and use cuffs? In short, no. Technically you and I as civilians are, by law, allowed to carry and use handcuffs. However, before you rush out and buy a set ‘because Colin from COVIC Training Solutions said so’, there is a mass of information you need to understand first.

Ultimately you need to be trained in the reasonable use of handcuffs and they need to be of serviceable and fit for purpose quality. Ideally you would also be trained in restraint as this is good practice and you will understand the concepts of reasonable force. A handcuff training course not only teaches you how to apply cuffs, but also the underpinning legislation in relation to their use, some of which we will look at now.

The Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998 came into effect on 2nd October 2000. Under Articles 2, 3 and 5, the following needs to be taken into consideration if handcuffs are to be authorised for use in an organisation and applied by its staff.

Article 2

Article 2(1) promotes the positive obligation to preserve life. This means that if there is a risk to life and something can be done to eliminate or reduce that risk to life then that absolutely should be done.

One of the main risks to life during physical restraint is the risk of death due to positional asphyxiation, which can be brought about by many factors including a prolonged struggle and a restrained person being held in a prone position for extended periods of time, especially if pressure or weight is applied onto their back. If this risk of death can be eliminated or reduced by the application of handcuffs then the authorisation of their use can be justified under Human Rights legislation.

With regard to the use of handcuffs therefore, the restriction of liberty has to be balanced against the positive obligation to preserve life. Simply put, if the application of handcuffs is justified as a proportionate response to prevent a greater harm occurring (especially if the harm is potentially life threatening) then they must be considered as a positive controlling option to minimise risk.

Article 3

Article 3 covers the prohibition of torture and degrading and inhumane treatment. It could be argued that handcuffing a female prisoner during childbirth, or the handcuffing of a mentally ill patient during a hospital or dental visit, or even the handcuffing of a prisoner in court are all degrading and humiliating circumstances in violation of Article 3. However, a balance between Articles 2 and 3 in the form of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment must be undertaken in order to justify either using or not using handcuffs. This must also be backed up by clear policy and staff training so that they may use their discretion competently.

Article 5

Article 5 covers the right to liberty and security of a person. People have the right to not be detained or arrested unless it is authorised by law. Subsection 1c of the article states: “the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so”. Any Door Supervisor worth their salt will explain arrest powers under SOCAP 2005.

Health & Safety at Work Act 1974

Outside of The Human Rights Act 1998, there’s The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and it states in Section 2 (1): “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

Section 2 (2a) states: “Without prejudice to the generality of an employer’s duty under the preceding subsection, the matters to which that duty extends include in particular… The provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;”

The important part there is the term ‘plant’. This refers to tools, PPE and anything required in carrying out a job. The Act goes on to state appropriate training must be carried out as well.

Under the ‘umbrella’ of H&S legislation Manual Handling Regulations 1992 can be found. Manual Handling Regulations 1992 Section 4 (1bii) states: “where it is not reasonably practicable to avoid the need for his employees to undertake any manual handling operations at work which involve a risk of their being injured- take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury to those employees arising out of their undertaking any such manual handling operations to the lowest level reasonably practicable”

How does Manual Handling come into a discussion about handcuffs or restraint? Well, when we restrain a person we are using physical effort, or manual handling to restrain them. Furthermore, the restrained person can be identified as the load, and can be a potentially damaging hazard, especially when resisting. When handling an uneven load in a warehouse, we take counter measures to control the load don’t we? So, when a restrained person is resisting to the point of staff losing control, the load has become uneven and a problem for manual handling. Should we not utilise counter measures to ensure the safety of all concerned as per Health & Safety legislation?

We can see by the examples highlighted that as security operatives we have a duty to carry and if necessary, use handcuffs under certain conditions. Failure to do so may result in injury of the restraining staff, members of the public and the individual under restraint with the litigation coming down squarely on the restraining staff. Don’t forget, if you arrest and/or restrain someone, you are removing their liberty anyway. If you apply handcuffs, it is because you’ve arrested them or they are of too great a risk without them. A dynamic risk assessment along with conscious justification should be enough to make an educated decision.

A lengthy post I know, but there’s a lot of legislation surrounding the use of handcuffs, and this isn’t all of it. Lastly from the Police perspective, a release from ACPO Association of Chief Police Officers states handcuffs can be used by members of the public and it is not illegal to carry them as a standard citizen due to their classification as a ‘mechanical restraint device’ as opposed to an ‘offensive weapon’. A copy of the excerpt is available from me on request.

Cover yourself. Get trained and get informed!

Colin Vowles
Training Director

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