Prohibit use of spit hoods in the ACT: Statement by the Commission

30 August 2022

“We are seriously concerned by evidence presented in Legislative Assembly Estimates hearings concerning the use of spit hoods as a restraint measure on a young person arrested by ACT Policing.

“We are also seriously concerned at the lack of data on the use of spit hoods that has been revealed by the Estimates process, particularly when we know from other jurisdictions that spit hoods are used disproportionately on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including children.

“The use of spit hoods can pose a serious risk of suffocation. This was tragically identified as a potential factor in the death in custody of Aboriginal man Wayne Fella Morrison in South Australia.

“We are calling on the ACT Government to take urgent action and follow the South Australian Government in banning the use of these restraints on adult and child detainees throughout the Territory, whether by police or in our correctional, youth justice centres and secure mental health facilities.

“ACT Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner, Jodie Griffiths Cook, together with other Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG) wrote to ACT Ministers on 9 March 2022 calling for spit hoods and mechanical restraint chairs to be prohibited for use on children and young people anywhere in the Territory.

“We understand that Minister Davidson is working with the Community Services Directorate to ban the use of these devices in Bimberi Youth Justice Centre. However, the issue is clearly broader than just Bimberi as recent revelations illustrate.

“The use of spit hoods could constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment when used to punish or coerce, and may further compound trauma for vulnerable individuals.

“There are other effective, less restrictive and less risky measures, such as PPE and face-shields, that can minimise risk to all involved in such incidents.

“ACT Policing are a public authority under the Human Rights Act 2004 and have obligations to ensure that they act and update policies and procedures consistently with the rights of the people they engage with. This includes the obligation to use the least restrictive means necessary to apprehend and detain individuals, while maintaining the safety of the individual, officers and general community. Evidence from overseas and nationally tells us that spit hoods should be banned from use on children and adults in the ACT.

“This issue may be highly relevant during the upcoming October 2022 visit to Australia of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, which can visit places of detention unannounced, including police watchhouses in the ACT.”  

Dr Helen Watchirs OAM, President and Human Rights Commissioner
Jodie Griffiths-Cook, Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner
Karen Toohey, Discrimination, Health Services, Disability and Community Services Commissioner

Media inquiries: Christine Kearney 0466 861 451,