These rules have been assembled by the Law on Police Use of Force Worldwide Project. They are derived from international human rights law, the 1979 Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and the 1990 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
- In any use of force the police and other law enforcement officials must respect the principles of necessity and proportionality.
- Each use of force must be justified and justifiable.
- Rules governing the use of force, including weapons that may lawfully be used, should be set out in national legislation and other administrative provisions.
- Medical assistance shall be provided to any person, including a criminal suspect, who has been injured during action by any law enforcement official.
The police and other law enforcement officials shall be held accountable for their use of force.
Operations shall be planned so as to minimise the risk of death or injury.
The Principle of Necessity
The police and other law enforcement officials may only use force when it is necessary to do so for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.
When force may lawfully be used, that force shall be only the minimum necessary in the circumstances.
- Once the necessity for force has ended (for example when a suspect is handcuffed and is not resisting arrest) no additional force may be used.
The Principle of Proportionality
Force shall only be lawful if it is proportionate to the threat posed by a suspect and/or the harm that a law enforcement official is seeking to avoid.
Disproportionate force that could be necessary in the circumstances is unlawful.
Specific Rules on the Use of Firearms
A law enforcement official may only discharge a firearm when it is necessary in the circumstances to do so to stop an imminent threat of loss of life or serious injury. An imminent threat is one that is expected to materialise in actual harm in a split second or at most a matter of seconds.
Where a threat to life is grave and proximate in time, but not imminent, exceptionally a firearm may be discharged when it is necessary in the circumstances to do so to stop that threat.
A threat purely to property does not justify the use of firearms under international law.
- Intentional lethal use of firearms can only be lawful when such use is strictly unavoidable to protect life. A threat to life that is not imminent can never justify shooting with intent to kill.