Once More Unto The Breach!

Police officers have no legal powers of detention or coercion in private premises, unless a criminal offence is attempted or a breach of the peace anticipated.  The Government review of ss135/6 of the Mental Health Act 1983 which was published in December made it clear that there are no plans to reform this aspect of the law – it’s exactly as your government want it with no unilateral role for the police to manage mental health emergencies in private premises.  So making the police into a de facto contingency plan to contain a situation and ensure safety in the short term, is likely to fail, unless the circumstances involve a criminal offence or a breach of the peace.  It could be argued that it’s therefore fairly short-sighted to rely upon this as contingency, especially where the police have no idea they’ve been set up to fail in advance of a call coming in.

Even our frequent reliance upon the fourteenth century common law Breach of the Peace power is now constrained by twenty-first century human rights law.  We learned last year that you cannot invoke powers to apprehend a Breach of the Peace unless you intend to bring the person before a Magistrate.  Although this Court of Appeal ruling is now pending a further appeal to the Supreme Court, it is the law of England and Wales as of March 2015 until any higher court ruling says otherwise.


So imagine a situation in which a young man, legally still a child, is in need of inpatient admission but there is no immediately available bed – we’ve heard many stories in the last few months that start exactly like this, haven’t we?!  Imagine that such a bed will be available tomorrow morning so an agreement has been brokered with the young man’s family that he will be supported overnight by his parents and that if there are any particular problems, the police should be called.

To do what, precisely?! … let’s come back to that.

So the AMHP walks away having arranged the admission, the bridging plan to get through the night with ongoing parental support and their police-led contingency plan despite the police  being quite unaware of the plan in place that now involves them.  The police are therefore quite unaware of what else may have been done via any other part of the health and social care system, like the NHS, EDT or any Crisis Team.  The officers would not be aware of the precise circumstances, the background details, any identified risk issues that may be relevant to them keeping everyone safe and they are certainly unaware of what, if any, legal framework may now exist that might plug a gap in their own ability to act, given the ordinary powers of the police.

What do we want these officers to do, exactly?! … we’ll leave the issue of what they think they’re expected to do.

If they knew, for example, that an application to hospital had been made, they may be able to establish that the patient could be detained and conveyed under s6 to the relevant hospital, in extremis.  Of course, it may not be ideal that they turn up early at the hospital, but it’s not ideal that they are being called at all.  Maybe the officers could remain briefly at the hospital to assist in improvising some arrangement or other that helps keep the lad safe until he could be admitted?  But without knowledge of this, they are dealing with a young man in a house, who is non-specifically agitated and distressed and without any relevant legal powers.  So they are being placed in an invidious position: unable to act, but no entirely responsible for a safe and humane outcome because parents will probably expect this, having been assured that calling police officers is the right thing to do.

So what we want them to do, specifically … is to have them put their arm in a legal mangle and be responsible for a situation they didn’t make, which Parliament wants them nowhere near and which is liable to see supposed police failures front any centre of any untoward outcome.

IMG_0053IMG_0052Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.

6 thoughts on “Once More Unto The Breach!

  1. Not only has the AMHP walked, but also the referring medics & crisis team/CAMHs team?

    Correct me if I am wrong plz – but no one, including the police has any legal powers in the house, unless there is a 135(1) warrant in someone’s hand, until an actual application has been made by the AMHP.

    If there is no bed or a delay for any number of reasons then the contingency should involve the NHS & the referring medic/team, albeit maybe via a HTT/crisis team. But of course we know that children’s MH services r under huge pressure & the provision for 16 & 17 year olds is virtually non existent or at the very least difficult to access & they r v often 100s of miles away!

    Certainly beds when required r accessed in a way that helps no one. The same is almost true when it comes to LD beds also.

    I don’t know the details of this case, but I suspect that the whole way the bed & conveying arrangements do not work leaves us all crossing our fingers & scratching our heads & deflecting what we term risk management to others.

  2. I’ve always hoped (naively?) that when care plans say ‘dial 999’ that the police will have been briefed about what they are likely to be called to, and as you say what they are expected to do………

    1. No Judy, the police generally do not have an iota of an idea what to expect when turning up at these situations. The officers turning up may just have spent a couple of hours immersed in a burglary investigation or similar and are directed via the radio once available to attend such a concern for welfare. The only information available to them would be what has been communicated to the police from the phone call they had received from the person calling for assistance. Apart from ringing the local MH department who may have further background information on the patient or any action plans set in place in relation to the patient they are largely on their own.

      1. 2bf I am not sure ring 999 should v often be in a care plan & I suspect that’s the point. Most of this should be about how health services respond & manage & contain situations & any risk.

        There will be occasions when ringing 999 will be an option because of what is unfolding on the ground. But it really should be an exception.

        There will also b some v high risk people being managed in the community where ringing 999 might be a care plan. But again this should be not often & were information about risk has been shared & explained in context with the police or fire service etc. There are usually some kind of local arrangements in place & things like MAPPA to allow for this.

        Remember also plz that it is not always about risk in terms of MH. It is as u know complex & there is no direct link as such between criminal behaviour & MH. It’s just that sometimes people with MH issues present to the criminal justice system, but then again so do lots of people who do not have MH issues & vice versa.

  3. A few days ago, I was quietly in my own home and someone (in mental health services) reported a concern for my welfare. Police attended, and after I let them in, tried to arrange a mental health assessment. They called the mental health service, who directed them to call the GP, and the GP told them to call back the mental health service. The nurse on duty for mental health, refusing to come out to do an assessment, told the police they ‘should arrest [me] for transport to hospital’. The officer, who had been incredibly patient, at this point asked: “what do you suggest I arrest her for?”

    Fortunately for me, the officers refused to arrest me, but mental health services also refused to come out to do an assessment. It took three hours of police time and effort (not including subsequent paperwork). Something needs to change.

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