People detained for mental health problems need legislation that protects them better, the Law Society of England and Wales has said in its evidence to the independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983 (the Act), announced by Theresa May in her most recent party conference speech.
“As the law stands today, someone detained under the Mental Health Act – or ‘sectioned’ – may be treated without their consent for the first three months of their detention without any safeguards. This must stop,” said Law Society vice president Christina Blacklaws.
“The Act gives the state the power to detain patients for protracted periods of time – but after the initial decision, the first opportunity a patient has to revisit this is after six months.
“We think they should be able to challenge their detention much earlier – six months is far too long and may compound the distress of people who are already suffering.
“Children may not be able to challenge their detention or treatment at all. The Law Society is calling for specific safeguards for children receiving in-patient psychiatric care.”
The Law Society evidence makes a number of other recommendations about the Mental Health Act provisions as well as mental health treatment and services, including:
- Treating anyone without their consent in the first three months of their detention – unless authorised by a second opinion appointed doctor (SOAD) – must be prohibited.
- Children detained by parental consent do not have proper safeguards, such as a way to challenge their detention or treatment. There should be specific safeguards for children receiving in-patient psychiatric care.
- The use of community treatment orders must be urgently reviewed. Patients in community settings are being paid cash to take their medication.
- Prison inmates with mental health problems must be given the same level of care as anyone else.
Christina Blacklaws concluded: “Attitudes and approaches to mental health have moved on since the Act was written, and the legislation should reflect that.
“Every person who suffers from mental health issues should be treated in the least restrictive way possible, and should only be detained against their will if their health, safety or public protection depends on this last resort.”
The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law. Find out more at: lawsociety.org.uk