This week on tweets I’m going to focus on “Mental Health Act Assessments on Private Premises” and section 135(1) MHA. (You can follow in Twitter, via the link on the right hand column of the blog.) This follows the disturbing case of Mr Peter Russell, a dementia patient who has subject to the police use of force to ‘section’ him after an MHA assesment at his home.
I’m going to outline a particular problem from a police officer’s point of view. Let me just say unequivocally before I do so, that this is one example of the kind of thing we all do to each other and the police revisit this sort of thing on our health, mental health and social care colleagues every day.
So this is not about me trying to get on a high horse – I am aware that this could be viewed as the police throwing stones from greenhouses. In fact, this is as much about getting police officers to think through the problem as it is about trying to draw to AMHPs attention, the issue of consistency.
At various times over the last few years I’ve been asked to speak to a room full of AMHPs about policing and mental health. Inevitably, the subject of MHA Assessments in Private Premises comes up with all its usual quandaries:
- Should the police attend at all?
- If so, when and who decides?
- Should there be or could there be a warrant under s135(1) MHA
- Who makes that decision if there are disputes between the police and the AMHP about it.
- If there is a dispute, should the police still attend?
- Who risk assess the operation?
- more questions besides …
I’ve addressed each of these in other blogs so I won’t rehearse them here, but as I’ve continued to be involved in discussions on this it remains clear that there are misunderstandings and misconceptions about this piece of law and the legal framework that would surround such an assessment if it were conducted without a warrant. (I have even this year had disagreement with a Mental Health Act Commissioner, which felt very odd indeed – that it were needed at all seemed unexpected; that it were unexpectedly needed explained a lot.)
The reaction I get to my standard “s135” speech is mixed: more confused faces than nodding heads, but always mixed. I’d like to make an outrageous generalisation to keep the point short: but the nearer to London you get, the more heads tend to nod and the further north you travel the more one sees copies of Richard Jones being pulled from bags and the commencement of frantic page turning. Particularly looking forward to speaking at an AMHP conference in December in Leeds! (Note to self: pack riot gear.)
The inconsistency encountered by the police is probably on two issues – at least in my experience:
- Understanding of when the police are obligated to attend an MHA assessment – no, it’s not when the AMHP says they should.
- Understanding of the legal criteria for obtaining a warrant and how that understanding should link to decisions of whether to seek one – and therefore, when it would helpfully allow the mitigation of the very risks that necessitate police attendance in the first place.
My point is this: whatever you may think of the view I’ve taken on other blogs – views, incidentally which were formed in conjunction with national agencies followed by triangulated legal advice from independent MH Counsel, as well as police and health lawyers – YOU CAN’T BOTH BE CORRECT!
- The obligation for the police to attend either exists, or it does not.
- The grounds for getting a warrant are either met; or they are not
The stakes on this are high: the names of service users, mental health professionals and police officers who have died during the attempt to undertake MHA assessments can be found. Also, we heard last week of the case of Peter Russell where an assessment led to regrettable – although some argued, necessary – tactics to secure his safe admission after becoming resistant upon being detained under the Act. Such a case as Peter Russell’s is a critical incident in the sense of having the potential to affect the public’s confidence in the police.
And so this short new blog is just a reminder that it is incumbent upon us all to keep talking, learning and developing our understanding of the legal frameworks which govern us; to ensure we iron out our inconsistencies as much as we can. Within this, I include myself which is why I invite comment on this blog from anyone who has a perspective to offer.
Have a great week!
The Mental Health Cop blog
– won the ConnectedCOPS ‘Top Cop’ Award for leveraging social media in policing.
– won the Digital Media Award from the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind
– won a World of Mentalists #TWIMAward for the best in mental health blogs
– was highlighted by the Independent Commission on Policing & Mental Health
– was referenced in the UK Parliamentary debate on Policing & Mental Health
– was commended by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament.