I spent a large part of this afternoon grinning like a drain, I will be honest. Two of my finest officers took a trip down to the Magistrates’ Court this morning in order to give evidence in a summary trial. They ended up coming back victorious, not having had to give any evidence at all because of a sudden, last-minute decision on the part of the defendant to plead guilty.
Let me tell you why frontline cops should know their “Mental Capacity Act” from their elbow.
We took a 999 call some months ago to a report of a potential burglary in progress. A man had entered gardens and was trying the rear doors of a house, attempting to enter. Officers got themselves down there and shortly came across the miscreant. He was a heavily intoxicated man, who had also been seen on a flat roof at the back of the houses. Unfortunately for him, he’d fallen from the roof of the building and sustained what appeared to be a reasonably serious head injury. The extent couldn’t be known, because we can’t see inside his head for skull fractures and internal bleeding, but it looked quite serious so an ambulance was called. He was starting to get quite “tired and emotional” with the officers, offering various views on police procedure, police parentage and so on. He also offered a view about what the ambulance service could do with their concern for his welfare, but alas their professionalism prevented them from dismissing his needs.
He was taken to hospital against his will and once there, treated for his head injury. During this episode, his verbosity and self-expression grew to the extent that he offered various unbecoming views about the racial heritage of each of the officers involved who had been kind enough to ensure that he didn’t die or seriously deteriorate from an untreated head injury and a judgement fogged by enough alcohol to source a modest social event. He was arrested by them under the Public Order Act 1986 for racially abusive behaviour and rightly so given the foul abuse he directed at dedicated public servants keeping him safe.
Not having found any evidence of burglary, attempted burglary or damage, he had not been arrested for a substantive offence. The main concern was his head injury. He agreed once in hospital, in the glaze of bright lights to have his injury examined and treated – he was subsequently removed to custody where he fully sobered up. Having then been prosecuted, he appeared in the Magistrates’ Court and pleaded not guilty to the offence. During the period when the full file of paperwork was being completed, it became clear that the basis of his not guilty plea was essentially, “You illegally dragged me to hospital without arresting me and my shouting and ranting was a somewhat misguided protest against your illegal action.”
So it went to trial.
It was my view, having discussed the case, that the officers acted reasonably to ensure that someone who lacked capacity was subject the least restrictive intervention in his best interests, to prevent a serious deterioration in his condition, based upon paramedical advice. Hence the officers could rely upon sections 4B, 5 and 6 of the Mental Capacity Act to justify and explain their actions. Having therefore not acted unlawfully, there can be little doubt that the intoxication being voluntary, the abuse offered contravened the Public Order Act without any obvious defence, just as charged.
The officers made this known to the CPS and there was discussion at court between the lawyers involved. Having entered court confident that he would challenge his removal as illegal and hope to be found not guilty, the Mental Capacity Act was mentioned and he suddenly pleaded guilty – he was almost, but not quite, as confident as his solicitor. 🙂
The lesson of this little tale is this —
If you are an operational police officer, learn your Mental Capacity Act. This was not a man with an ongoing functional mental illness or an organic condition … he was just drunk. But drunk can still give rise to a lack of capacity, certainly having suffered a head injury in a fall. For whatever reason he was trespassing in someone’s garden, we never found out. I am sure when he was busy racially abusing two police officers he wasn’t thinking, “These buggers have dragged me up here without arresting me and I’m aware they appear to have breached the procedures of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, so I will protest their heritage.” He was being drunkenly and racially foul and abusive – ungrateful that 999 services could see what he couldn’t, no doubt compounded by his bang to the head. But that was medically cleared after examination and some superficial treatment and monitoring.
I couldn’t help but feel that the “illegal removal” argument was something of a game about perceived technicalities being present where officers were supposedly on dodgy legal ground taking people places against their will without arresting them. Wrong.
A small input on the Mental Capacity Act is of benefit to all – so read the articles on here, read the Quick Guide: not only might it help you safeguard someone who may otherwise die from an untreated head injury, it provides a lawful basis for acting against them when they gob off at you. It also means, as I personally suspect, that when a lawyer crawls all over the procedure to make argument that might provide a get-out-of-jail card, it takes the wind out of their sails as they as the say, “Oh” and realise that the officers knew more about the MCA than they did.
Hob nobs all ’round.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.