Imagine you’re the custody officer at a police station, you’re most of the way through a very busy shift in which you’ve already had a person collapse with chest pains and you’ve brought proceedings to a standstill to give attention to the arrival and intervention of paramedics and you’ve had two different people brought through who were extremely violent and resistant, detained in handcuffs with leg restraints and taken straight to a cell for searching and seclusion. You’ve made five separate decisions about whether someone should be charged and the inspector, who was busy with firearms incidents and a serious offence against a child, authorised and then delegated various things to you about intimate samples required from a rape suspect who has been in for a few hours. Oh, and you had to authorise a strip search on a female juvenile whose mother went absolutely ballistic at you despite officers finding razor blades on her in places that were highly dangerous.
It’s been busy!!
Then, a phone call comes through from the control room to say that court escort staff are bringing a prisoner to you on a judge’s directions. A man has appeared in court this morning and is now heading towards your cell block under 55 MHA. A judge has decided to use an interim hospital order under s38 of the Mental Health Act – however because of the ongoing bed crisis in the NHS, there is no mental health unit immediately available to take him. The judge has directed that he will be detained in your custody for up to 14 days whilst a bed in the mental health system is identified.
What? … WHY?! Is that even legal?! FOURTEEN DAYS!?
If you’re a police officer, this will sound fairly outrageous, but here are two facts for you.
A) It would be completely legal.
B) It actually happened, last week.
You probably did not know that s55 of the Mental Health Act defines a ‘Place of Safety’ for the purposes of Part III of the Mental Health Act? I’ll bet 50p that you didn’t – and all proceeds go to charity. Part III MHA includes all those sections concerned with the interface of our criminal justice system with our mental health system – remands for psychiatric reports / treatments; hospitals orders and interim hospital orders, as well as prison transfers of remanded as well as convicted prisoners. And right towards the end of s55 it defines a ‘Place of Safety’ very differently to the definition contained within s135(6) MHA which applies following the police application of s136 or the execution of a warrant under s135(1). A Part III PoS “in relation to a person who is not a child or young person, means any police station, prison or remand centre, or any hospital the managers of which are willing temporarily to receive him, and in relation to a child or young person has the same meaning as in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.”
So this ‘fourteen days in police custody’ idea is lawful. It is perhaps an ongoing indication of the supposed bed crisis we’ve read about that this situation has emerged. I’ve only ever heard once in fifteen years of a Part III PoS being implemented – on that occasion it was a prison and they were equally confused. So having found myself excited to learn of an odd application of the MHA, I thought I would share this with you – just on the off-chance that you are the custody sergeant at a police station the next time that some judge implements a hospital order, an interim hospital order or a restricted hospital order and then starts deciding to play around with s55 MHA.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.