You may or may not remember that a couple of years ago, I somewhat vented my spleen in a post which contained a list of all the legal myths and nonsense that we tend to hear at the interface of the policing and mental health. It remains the case, in my humble view, that we need to improve the standard of legal education across the 999 and related professions, not just around mental health law, but around the basic operation of the criminal justice system.
Little seems to have changed in those two years, so I thought I’d list them all over again with a few new ones! Things I still frequently hear from all of the relevant professions despite the fact that none of them are correct! —
- The police cannot arrest under s136 MHA if the person is in A&E
- To decide whether or not to prosecute a mental health inpatient for an offence, the police need a statement of evidence from a psychiatrist affirming the patient’s “capacity”.
- Only the police can keep someone detained against their will in a Place of Safety, after being removed there under s135(1) or s136.
- Only the police can use physical force to restrain a patient in a community MHA assessment, in order to compel that person to hospital once ‘sectioned’.
- It is always the role of the police to recover AWOL patients.
- If the police are in a private dwelling dealing with a mental health crisis, they can use the Mental Capacity Act to remove the person to A&E or a place of safety.
- Victims of crime with mental illness are inherently unreliable at court.
- Once you’ve detained a patient who is AWOL from hospital, you can keep them in a police cell if the hospital to which they should be returned does not have a bed.
- A&E is NOT a place of safety.
- An AMHP cannot use force on a person who they’ve just ‘sectioned’ to move them into an ambulance.
- Paramedics cannot use force on a person that has been sectioned by an AMHP [who has properly delegated authority under s6.]
- An AMHP can order or instruct the police or ambulance service to detain and convey under s6 MHA, someone for whose admission to hospital has been applied.
- If we don’t have a bed into which the admit someone who needs ‘sectioning’ then we don’t have a bed and that’s the end of it.
- Violent patients detained under s136 MHA should always be detained in the cells.
- A person who is detained under the MHA in hospital can’t be arrested or prosecuted.
- You cannot get a s135(1) warrant for an MHA assessment if you already know you can get access to the premises.
- The police can neither apply for nor execute a s135(2) warrant on their own.
- You cannot arrest and remove a s37/41 hospital order patient from a secure unit after they have committed a serious offence.
- You can’t stop psychiatric patients leaving a hospital ward and going AWOL if they want to.
- You cannot arrest an inpatient for an offence, unless the RC in charge gives permission.
- There is no point, legally, in prosecuting a s3 patient for violence on wards because they’ll end up back in the same place getting the same care from the same professionals.
I want to add a few more, that have emerged in recent times and in particular I want police officers to focus on the fact that the first of this new list is something that AMHPs are very frustrated by. So much so, that they’re actually laughing at us! —
- An AMHP without police support can execute a warrant under s135(1) or s135(2) of the Mental Health Act.
- You can’t assess someone under the MHA if they have consumed alcohol.
- Where paramedics have declared someone to lack ‘capacity’, this allows officers to remove people against their will to hospital.
We all need to try and raise the standard of legal literacy around these issues and just for absolute clarity: the wording of these bullet points is the wording of what is not true! I want to see professional practice influenced by greater reference to, use of and based on easy access to legal resources and therefore the law itself! But as a starter for ten we need each and every professional not only to take responsibility for their own legal knowledge, but also for stimulating a culture in their professional environments where emphasis is on legal literacy. This is not just about keep yourself out of legal difficulty, it is also about advocating for the rights of vulnerable people with whom organisations have contact because we read far too often about those rights being violated for the convenience of organisations.
I dream of a day when I don’t hear this sort of stuff, anymore!
Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.