23 / 5 / 2016 3.12pm
On 10 February the government introduced the Policing and Crime Bill. The bill includes proposals to: 1) stop children and young people under the age of 18 who are experiencing a mental health crisis being detained in police custody, and 2) restricting the circumstances when adults can be taken to police stations.
The proposal suggests that this will be done by reforming police powers under sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Summary of the Policing and Crime Bill
The Bill covers a wide range of subjects. Some of the proposed changes form part of the Government’s manifesto commitment to develop the role of Police and Crime Commissioners. Others are part of the Government’s response to concerns in recent years about police integrity.
Other changes to police powers are in response to more specific concerns – for example over detention of people suffering mental health crises, and over the length of time people can be held on police bail before they are charged. The Bill also covers areas as diverse as firearms control; alcohol licensing; enforcement of United Nations and EU sanctions; and child sexual exploitation.
Key issues for mental health
A number of recommendations for legislative change from the 2014 S135/136 Review are being taken forward in the Bill. These will:
- further reduce the use of police stations as a place of safety by providing that they can never be used in the case of under 18s, and making provision for their use to be restricted to exceptional circumstances in the case of adults;
- provide a wider definition of “places of safety” (for example to encompass the third sector) and give the flexibility to use suitable premises on a temporary basis to extend local capacity of places of safety to meet local need;
- enable the police to act promptly under the Act to protect individuals or the public from harm on private property (such as railway lines, work places, building rooftops), without the need to seek a warrant (a warrant will still be required for private dwellings);
- reduce the maximum time period for which a person can be detained under section 135 or 136 from 72 hours to 24 hours (with an extension to 36 hours possible exceptionally);
- require the police to consult a health professional (where practicable) before detaining a person under section 136; and
- clarify that mental health assessments can take place in the private home if appropriate
Progression of the Bill
The Bill was given a formal First and Second Reading (no debate) on Thursday 19 May to reintroduce it in the 2016-17 session of Parliament. MPs will debate the second day of the Report Stage followed by the Legislative Grand Committee and Third Reading on a date to be announced.
Further to the introduction of the Bill into Parliament, new amendments have been put forward. These include:
- Extending the right to an independent mental health advocate to those detained under sections 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
- Requiring each policy force to provide its officers with training on how to exercise power under the Mental Health Act, with particular reference to diversity issues.
- Ensuring the individual detained under section 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act has access to legal advice.
- Banning a police officer from using a taser or electroshock weapon during a deployment on a psychiatric ward.”
- Requiring the Home Secretary to be notified whenever police officers are deployed on psychiatric wards.
- Requiring the Home Secretary to be notified whenever a police officer uses a taser on a psychiatric ward.
- Requiring the Secretary of State by regulations to make provision about how adults removed to, kept at or taken to a police station, in the exercise of a power to which this section applies, are to be treated while at the police station, including provision for review of their detention.
We are keen to hear your views on these recent proposals.
MHN key issues
The MHN is closely monitoring the Bill and plans to send a briefing to MP’s to highlight issues of resource, provision and the timeframe for introducing the Bill.
Many of the mental health amendments are supported in principle but there needs to be appropriate commissioning and provision. In particular we will be highlighting:
- How can we ensure that there are enough age appropriate places of safety across the country for under 18’s?
- How we can ensure that there is greater access to alternatives to police custody for adults?
- The current challenges to reducing assessment time from 72-24 hours.
- Concerns that staff will be acting unlawfully if they cannot find a hospital and bed for people subject to S136 within 24 hours.
Please send your comments and concerns about the proposed reforms to Claire.Mallett@nhsconfed.org.