Seni’s Law

Earlier this month, Steve Reed MP, introduced a private member’s bill to the House of Commons which is being informally referred to as Seni’s Law – the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill 2017. This follows the death in 2010, of Olaseni Lewis in a hospital in south London – an incident to which the police were called and which involved restraint. Mr Reed is the local MP for Seni Lewis’s parents who have campaigned for justice since this tragic incident and the publication of a PMB in Parliament brings the possibility of legal changes which may assist in protecting individuals whilst they are detained in hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983.

The Bill has received support in principle across the political spectrum so it’s extremely likely that a version of this Bill will become law in England at some point next year. (It will not affect the other three countries of the UK because health issues are devolved in those jurisdictions).


The Bill is largely not about the police, I am very pleased to say. It is mostly about the NHS having proper systems in place to govern the use of restrictive practices, esp physically restrictive practices like restraint, and that such matters are properly recorded, reported and analysed at both local and national level. For example, there would be a requirement for the Secretary of State to produce a report in connection with the data that would be gathered by law. This for me represents the multi-factorial explanation that the Inquest jury returned in connection with Seni’s death: see my post from the time of the inquest for more detail on that.

My own view is that this law is largely welcome: at various times over the last few years, it has become obvious to me that the scrutiny of our NHS around use of physical force and coercion is at odds with how we hold police, prisons and other arenas of detention to account. The Bill would also call for an independent investigation of certain types of death in the NHS and this is something I’ve suggested should occur for some while. I fully understand that many of the deaths which occur in our NHS where patients are detained against their will are largely deaths caused by natural causes – for example, an elderly patient with dementia who dies primarily as a result of conditions associated with old age and which are nothing to do with the detention of the state. But when a teenager dies in NHS care, unexpectedly and in unexplained circumstances, the approach needs to reflect modern standards we impose upon other agencies who detain and coerce people.

I recently attended the book launch in London for Sara Ryan’s absorbing book which outlines her compelling campaign to secure justice for her son, Connor Sparrowhawk. Connor died in an Oxfordshire learning disabilities unit, contributed to by neglect and at the book launch I was also most fascinated to hear from the family’s barrister, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, who argued that were it not for Sara and her family, there would probably not have been any kind of investigation. Part of the ‘Justice for Laughing Boy’ campaign was to highlight how much difference there is in the state’s response to unexplained or unexpected deaths in NHS care, when compared to what occurs in police or prison custody. We may have concerns and questions about the IPCC, but at least they exist to be criticised and challenged. The police weren’t even called to Connor’s death, not withstanding that it was initially unexplained and unexpected.


The main ‘police’ element of this Bill bears some explaining because I want to gather views around it – especially from those with experience of being detained in mental health units. One clause creates a strict requirement that any officer called to a mental health unit for any reason should be wearing body worn video from the point they are called to attend. This is obviously about accountability where the police are called and things have gone awry and presumably is about giving effect to the theory that officer behaviour is modified where the officers know they’re on camera, but for me it raises some further, more interesting questions.

Inpatient settings are supposedly places of sanctuary for those of us with mental health issues when we are at our most vulnerable – we don’t, to my knowledge, routinely have CCTV cameras giving full coverage on MH wards because of the argument that it violates patient privacy principles, but by arguing for body-worn-video on officers, we seem to want such cameras brought in when the police attend. So —

  • How do patients feel about the idea that they or other patients would be filmed in incidents when the police attend?
  • How much consultation has there been with service users about this new law?
  • Why does the Bill only seek to hold the police to account by ensuring their actions are videod? – it doesn’t seek to hold NHS staff to account around whatever may have occurred before the police turn up.

Surely an independent investigation in to a death in NHS care (whether or not the police were involved) would only benefit from CCTV? – I’ve been wondering why the Bill wants the police videod but not NHS nurses who restrain patients. Think about the cases of Rocky Bennett (1998) or more recently Joseph Phuong (2016) to consider NHS restraint related deaths that would not have been caught on body worn video because the police were not involved at the point where clinical staff were restraining patients. Is it any more or less controversial or in need of close scrutiny that someone who died in the custody of the state died following restraint by nurses or by police officers?  I admit to not understanding the difference – at all.

Let me know any thoughts you have, in the comments below – there’s more to it than I’ve covered here, but my time is limited at the moment. Apart from anything else, the NPCC are being asked questions about practical matters of implementation so your views could be represented in the replies given by the Boss if you let us know what they are!


** UPDATE, December 2018 – “Seni’s Law” became the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 in November and will take effect on a date to be fixed in 2019.

Winner of the President’s Medal,
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award


All views expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation.
(c) Michael Brown, 2019

I try to keep this blog up to date, but inevitably over time, amendments to the law as well as court rulings and other findings from inquests and complaints processes mean it is difficult to ensure all the articles and pages remain current.  Please ensure you check all legal issues in particular and take appropriate professional advice where necessary.

Government legislation website –


8 thoughts on “Seni’s Law

  1. Michael – Very interesting reading. I appreciate the bill is not in effect yet but would you advocate the wearing of BWV by all police officers entering MH establishments now? With the recent 6 Missed chances review etc, I would encourage all officers to record any interaction they have?

  2. I wouldn’t mind cameras on wards. Cops weren’t allowed in when I rang womens aid and they rang cops who came. I wasn’t even told cops turned up. Thought women’s aid just laughed it off. Later, when I realised cops had come, could not understand why they couldn’t come in. Husband took photos of bruising but “only cops photos ” in court.They tried to overdose me and threatened to kill me, saying they get away with it all the time. Clearly true. We have NO human rights.

  3. Sir,

    A very interesting read. I’m currently attached to the Mental Health Street Triage Team for the Black Country. In light of the bill above, I do think officers attending mental health units in relation to patients who are violent should be wearing BWV, not only for their protection, but the protection of the detained person.
    In the most I believe that this is almost common practice with all front line staff having BWV issued and used on a daily basis.
    The IPPC’s comments on restraint for violent persons with MH, do not fill me with confidence, when being faced with someone twice my size intent on beating me to a pulp, I won’t be reaching for my feather duster and tickling them into submission, so I along with other officers need BWV to show the level of violence and danger being posed and show justification for our actions.

    Better recording by NHS staff in regards to use of force is needed and I think again for both the patients and staff they should have some form of CCTV or BWV. This would allow for a thorough investigation should there be a death following restraint of a patient.

    Both staff and patients should be able to work and be treated in a safe environment free from the threats of violence however in reality this is not the case, as I have herd and seen patients using violence and intimidation towards staff and other patients when on wards.

    We have a long way to go with regards to this, but let’s offer a level of protection and accountability to those that are trying to keep patients safe. Yes CCTV is intrusive but BWV can be selectively turned on when needed and isn’t running when it’s not required.

  4. I think CCTV – while a sensitive topic – would protect both patients and staff. It is used in secure and specialist units, but as far as I am aware not generally on acute wards. Difficult to have it only turned on for incidents of restraint, but protection it gives to everyone is possibly worth having it used more generally. And deaths or injury in NHS environments should be investigated as a matter of course if it si unexpected.

  5. And currently there is far less scrutiny of deaths in NHS care than there are of deaths in police custody….

  6. Deaths of people detained by whatever legal process should always be investigated – the oversight would surely underline both good and poor practice and perhaps crucially go to reassure both patients and their families, especially on a first admission that the days of the old asylum are no longer with us.

    We should all be responsible for our actions – where we are capacitous and supported when we do not. I have no doubt that knowing one is being filmed does alter behaviour to the positive – speaking for myself I know I am always more aware of how daft I may appear when a family member has a camcorder on the go (clearly that is not at work). I would also suggest that people generally, including people with mental health needs are used to being filmed wherever they are these days, and whilst this is not always something we welcome, I know that CCTV footage when viewed by the police often shows people are innocent of things they are accused of. I must reflect too that if I lacked capacity and something was filmed which showed me as innocent of something I had been accused of or showed I had been harmed, hurt, belittled or degraded by those meant to care for me I am sure my family would welcome this, as would I when I hopefully regained capacity.

  7. I’ve just taken a look at the draft legislation Under section 13 of the proposed Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill it states in para 1, An on-duty police officer that attends a mental health unit for any reason must wear an operational body camera.
    As I read it, if a police officer attends a MH ward for whatever reason be it to speak to a witness, staff member , patient, victim of crime, attend an emergency , or other reason they aren’t coming in unless they have an operational camera?
    Or am I reading it wrong?

  8. BWV and CCTV are great tools in providing an independent account of any incident. The rules should cover the use of recorded images and not who records them.

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