Last week, I published a post about the temporary amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983 which will be brought in by the Coronavirus Bill 2020, if passed ‘as is’. That Bill goes before Parliament today, to commence its process towards becoming law and it may or may not change as the process unfolds. Me being me(!), I was a bit curious about the other health related implications for the police service so I kept reading beyond the Mental Health Act amendment stuff and this post summarises the police related powers in Schedule 20 of the Bill as they relate to ‘infectious persons’. If you want to read this for yourself, open the draft Bill and go to Schedule 20 on p215 – I will warn you now(!), it’s quite a dense read, hence I thought I’d try to summarise the main aspects of it.
You may quite reasonably wonder what this has to do with policing and mental health?! … potentially nothing at all and I’m conscious of straying outside my domain of interest – this is legislation related to so-called ‘physical’ healthcare issues. But as with all coercive, state authorities, they potentially fall more frequently on to those in poverty, minority groups and those of us with mental health problems. There is also the fact that severe and enduring mental health problems tends to correlate with poorer physical health. I can’t be the only police officer in the country who has already had involvement in a COVID-19 / mental health related incident where a person who was mentally unwell, declined to comply with healthcare advice around suspected infection. So there is a link here, if you think about it more broadly and it’s not hypothetical – no doubt there will be more overlap cases to come and where refusals, public health give rise to question of coercion, the police are in the phone book with a memorable phone number.
CORONAVIRUS BILL 2020
The draft Bill contains provisions for police and immigration officers to detain people who refuse to comply with directions, screening or assessment where they are thought to be infectious and it has already started to happen on the Isle of Man where the law was changed faster.
Once law, it will allow —
- Screening and Assessment
- For officers to remove a person to a “screening and assessment” centre at the request of a public health official.
- For officers to remove a person to a screening and assessment centre if they have reasonable grounds to SUSPECT (not believe) that a person is infectious.
- Hold a person at a screening or assessment centre for up to 24hrs, for the purpose of screening and assessment.
- Hold a person at screening or assessment centre beyond 24hrs, up to 48hrs on the Authority of an officer not below the rank of superintendent.
- Transfer a person to another screening or assessment centre from the first they attend, whereupon the 24hrs period starts afresh; along with the ability to further authorise detention up to 48hrs on a superintendent’s authority.
- Use reasonable for in doing any of the above.
- Isolation and Treatment
- Where a person has been screened and assessed, a public health officer may require that person to attend or remain at a suitable place for treatment for a 14 day period.
- This may be further extended by another 14 days, if authorised by a public health official.
- Where such authorisations are given, a public health official or constable may enforce this isolation, if necessary.
- A person commits an offence if –
- They do not attend a screening or assessment centre when required to do so by a public health official.
- They abscond from a screening or assessment centre without authority to discharge.
- They fail to comply with any reasonable request or direction from a public health official.
- They do not remain at a suitable treatment place, once directed; or if they abscond from such a place, if detained there.
- Adults commit offences in respect of children who are suspected to have coronavirus where those children are made subject to the above provisions.
THIS IS NOT (YET) THE LAW! … it is a draft Bill only and this post is my strictly personal view / summary of it. It may or may not become law very soon, so it may be worth getting your head around it, in general terms. I’m going to pay attention to the Parliamentary process on this and if the above should change during debate, I will revisit this post ASAP and amend the content, as necessary and just as I’m finalising this post for publication, the Prime Minister has been on the news to notify us all of the lockdown which will come over the next three weeks, and where this may all come in to play.
Please be aware in the interim, there are similar powers available NOW, under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 which will be repealed if / when the Bill becomes law.
Winner of the President’s Medal, the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award
All opinions expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation. (c) Michael Brown OBE, 2020
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 – http://www.legislation.gov.uk