I have noticed recently that the number of times my blog has been read in the Republic of Ireland has markedly increased. Our colleagues in the Garda Síochána are serving in the country of our nearest neighbours and I have recently become curious about the similarities or differences between policing and mental health both in our two countries.
The Republic of Ireland last updated their legislation in the Mental Health Act 2001. This formalised certain roles for the Garda in the detention, conveyance and recovery of certain people or patients and additional details can be found in various Codes of Practice to the 2001 Act. A useful document in understanding how this new legislation operates can be found in the report of a joint working group on Mental Health Services and the Police (2009).
This identifies many issues that will be familiar to readers in the United Kingdom as well as in other areas where this blog is read like Canada, Australia and New Zealand: there are issues around the capacity of health and / or social care services to respond to situations out of hours which creates a vacuum into which the Garda are drawn; there are issues around the training given to Garda trainees in the identification of people who may potentially be experienced a mental disorder and the nature of what an appropriate response to that may be. Like most countries, the nature of police responses has been questioned in response to deaths in Garda custody because of the prevalence of vulnerable people experiencing mental ill-health issues and drug or alcohol problems.
Arising from recommendations in the 2009 report, the Health Service Executive of Ireland and and published a memorandum of understanding (2010) to bring detail to joint working agreements. There was a review of the Mental Health Act (RoI) in 2012.
I want to concentrate minds on the difference between legal authorities in the UK and the RoI on the ability to apply an emergency intervention. It is these powers I am contrasting across the countries concerned:
- Section 136 Mental Health Act 1983 – England / Wales.
- Section 297 Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2005 – Scotland.
- Article 130 Mental Health Order 1986 – Northern Ireland.
- Section 12 Mental Health Act 2001 – Republic of Ireland.
In the United Kingdom, none of the three pieces of legislation cited allow UK police officers to detain anyone in a private place and therefore do not offer a power of entry, by force if required, in order to do so. The Republic of Ireland does –
“Where a member of the Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is suffering from a mental disorder and that because of the mental disorder there is a serious likelihood of the person causing immediate and serious harm to himself or herself or to other persons, the member may either alone or with any other members of the Garda Síochána –
Take the person into custody; and
- Enter, if need be by force any dwelling or other premises or any place, if he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is to be found there.”
It is not only the public / private and “power of entry” issues that are different: s12 MHA (RoI) requires a higher assessment of risks than in the UK legislation. You will recall that British MHAs call for “immediate need of care or control, in that person’s interests or for the protection of others.” Quite clearly this can include situations of “immediate and serious harm” as per Irish law, but it includes other, lower levels risks where purely on the basis of a perceived need for care, the police may intervene if that need is immediate despite it not necessarily being likely to lead to “serious harm”.
This allows An Garda Síochána a clear operational advantage over UK police services responding to mental health crisis situations in private dwellings. The ability to remove someone to a safe place for assessment by a doctor where there are immediate fears around serious risks, whether apprehended in a public or private space, removes the possibility of the “999 What’s Your Emergency” type incidents. Ireland are not unique in this regard – most states of Australia and Canada are the same, as well as South Africa.
Irish law provides further clarity around situations which are routinely frustrating in the UK and British officers reading this may not enjoy this next point! – where a patient in Ireland has been “sectioned”, the applicant for the patient’s admission to hospital may request An Garda Síochána to assist them secure safe admission if they are unable to do it themselves and the Garda must assist.
There are so many advantages to such clarity – whether or not you agree with individual points – that just a cursory reading of Irish Law reinforces how many grey areas of debate British law currently creates. It is Irish Mental Health Law that I cite when trying to highlight how we leave so much unspecified and how we’ve managed to make it so complicated.
I’m confident from reading the 2009 report and the 2010 MoU that there are still problems in operationalising effective joint working practices as Ireland continues to move to a full model of community mental health care – but to have to attempt it against a background of modern mental health legislation whose attraction is in its simplicity must be a real advantage.
Update on 01st April 2015 – since writing this article, a new Code of Practice has come into effect in England. It doesn’t substantially alter the post but certain reference numbers have changed. My summary post about the new Code of Practice (2015) is here, the new Reference Guide is here and the full document is here. The Code of Practice (Wales) remains unchanged.
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