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Lawyers call for national judicial inquiry into Tasers

Lawyers call for national judicial inquiry into Tasers

Australian lawyers are heated over potentially lethal police weapons, and are calling for a National Judicial Inquiry into their use following the death of a Sydney man this week.




The Australian Lawyers national president, Greg Barns, said Tasers continued to be rolled out in Australian jurisdictions, since their 2001 introduction, despite deaths, including yesterday’s incident, being directly linked to their use.

The Law Institute of Victoria also weighed in this week, and said the roll-out of Tasers in Victoria should be suspended.

"Tasters are supposed to be the non-lethal alternative to firearms. The death of the Sydney man proves they are not," said LIV president Michael Holcroft. 

There is evidence from Australia and overseas which shows young people are at a higher risk of injury or death from a Taser due to their smaller body mass. Also, those affected by drugs or alcohol or with a heart condition are especially vulnerable.

“Mounting international evidence of their danger was made back in 2008 as part of the Braidwood Public Inquiry in Vancouver, following the death of Robert Dziekanski. At this Inquiry, Taser International CEO, Tom Smith, admitted use of the Tasers was not risk-free," said Barns.

Barns pointed as well to retired justice Thomas Braidwood’s findings that Taser weapons pose a risk of serious injury or death. These findings were upheld by the Supreme Court, he said, "which determined that the justice had carefully examined the opinions of medical experts".

"Yet you have a situation where another Australian death doesn’t cause the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner, Ken Lay, to pause and consider introducing them now in Victoria.”

Barns said Australian lawyers should also be concerned about the link between Taser use and the mentally ill.

“A mentally ill NSW man died of a heart attack in the first death in 2002 after threatening police with a frying pan. A scathing report from NSW ombudsman, Bruce Barbour, came six years after the event,” he said.

Another mentally ill man, Adam Salter, was shot and killed in 2009 by a police woman who yelled at the time: "Taser, Taser, Taser." Barns said this evidence suggests confusion may have come from carrying too many weapons, including a firearm and a similarly shaped Taser on her waist.

Barns referred as well to an Alice Springs man in 2009, who died after both a Taser and capsicum spray were used to subdue him following a domestic dispute. The third victim was a Queensland man who died, last year, after being Tasered up to 28 times.

“Tasers continue to be promoted by police and politicians as a safe alternative to hand guns, but clearly they are not. This may be furthering their unnecessary use as a quick fix to an otherwise protracted drawn out stand off with a suspect," said Barns.


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