Young child's hand behind a fence.

Use of spit hoods can amount to torture in youth detention or anywhere else

Amnesty International Australia today joined calls from Aboriginal health and rights groups to end the use of spit hoods in detention.

“We have written to Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner to ask him to respect the recommendations of the 2017 Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT and end the use of these horrific tools of torture,” Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights campaigner Maggie Munn said.

“A spit hood is a tool of torture. Whether used in youth detention or in watchhouses is really a matter of semantics only – the profound damage and trauma the use of spit hoods can wreak can not be overstated.”

Amnesty International along with the Omega Foundation made a submission in December 2021 to the Group of Government Experts on torture free trade and singled out spit hoods (or spit guards) for particular mention as law enforcement equipment that can be misused for torture or other ill treatment, noting they should be controlled.

“The data released shows a 12-year-old child was restrained using a spit hood. It’s heartbreaking to think that the lives of young children are valued so little that we allow designated tools of torture to be used against them,” Munn said.

“People have the right to workplace safety, but Amnesty International has serious questions about the appropriateness of this kind of response.

“The Royal Commission had extensive recommendations regarding the safety of officers none of which included spit hoods, so we encourage Territory Police and the Government to review the report again for alternatives, such as protective personal equipment.”

In 2017 when the Royal Commission report was handed down, Chief Minister Gunner told Territory Parliament it would precipitate “the most comprehensive overhaul of youth justice and child protection in NT history.”

“We cannot let this report sit on the shelf gathering dust like so many that have come before, and turning our expert advice into practical, meaningful, on-the-ground change will require the full support and partnership of the Commonwealth Government,” Gunner said.