It takes a High Court judge to tell Corrections not to gas torture prisoners

I’m no fan of Guyon Espiner or his sanctimonious insufferable partner, but his journalism on the abuse of prisoners is some of the best of the year…

Corrections breaking the law by gassing prisoners with potent pepper spray, judge rules

Corrections has been breaking the law by gassing prisoners in their cells with a potent pepper spray called the Cell Buster, a High Court judge has ruled.

The Cell Buster, made by US company Sabre and marketed under the tagline ‘Making Grown Men Cry Since 1975’, involves hosing pepper spray into a closed cell to incapacitate the inmate.

It was used multiple times against Mihi Bassett and Karma Cripps at Auckland Women’s Prison in 2019 in what the District Court earlier ruled was cruel and degrading treatment designed to break their spirit.

Bassett and Cripps then took a case against the Attorney-General challenging the use of Cell Buster in New Zealand prisons.

On Thursday, the Wellington High Court Judge Rebecca Ellis ruled Corrections regulations in force between 2009 and 2021 failed to properly authorise the use of the Cell Buster pepper spray.

“The use of Cell Buster in prisons while those regulations were in force was also therefore unlawful.”

Justice Ellis ruled that Ministers of Corrections over those years did not have enough information to ensure the weapon could be used safely.

…how many times did we gas torture prisoners?

Justice Ellis made it clear the tactic concerned her.

“The notion of intentionally and remotely inflicting pain on a prisoner – a vulnerable person by definition – while locked in his or her cell is instinctively unpalatable,” she said.

“It is, perhaps, the ability to deploy Cell Buster in a more calculated and impersonal way – to inflict pain on a person who cannot escape, while observing their suffering from a safe distance – that has the potential to rob the process of its humanity and the prisoner of their inherent dignity.”

However, she said it was possible that in cases where a prisoner was armed or threatening to hurt others, using Cell Buster could be warranted and in those instances, it may be more humane than other tactical options.

Faced with the legal action, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis got Cabinet approval for new Corrections regulations earlier this year in an attempt to ensure the use of Cell Buster was legal.

But Justice Ellis said the 2022 regulations were not put before her in this case “so I expressly make no formal findings about their lawfulness or otherwise”.

The Cell Buster was used 27 times in New Zealand prisons between 2016 and 2020.

…so after torturing 130 children with electricity, after buying and deploying sound cannons that can maim hearing, the State also gas tortured 27 prisoners illegally?

I’ve said it once, I’ll never stop saying it, the NZ State is the biggest abuser of human rights in this country.


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