It’s that time of year: new data released for the police use of section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, available in a Home Officer bulletin reporting of wider use of various police powers. It gives use various express clues, if you read the thing closely, that there is increasing pressure on the system, ongoing confusion about the ‘new’ legislation from two years ago and difficulties which could still yet manifest itself in untoward events gone awry, which would seem unjustifiable given the lessons we’ve previously learned the hard way from other incidents over the last 20years.
The headlines are –
We need to understand more what this 62% of people ‘detained for substantive offences’ means. Where someone is arrested for an alleged offence and removed to custody, their arrest / detention will not form part of these statistics. Only where s136 is invoked will it be included. There could be two scenarios that I’m thinking of –
I’m wondering whether most of these 62% of cases (which is 84 people overall) involve people arrested for offences, released from PACE and then detained under s136 MHA and kept in custody. If I’m right about this, we need to issue further reminders about the law because once use of s136 MHA is made, the law requires the person be “removed to or kept at” a Place of Safety and the Regulations set out the circumstances in which this can be a police station. It involves a situation where there is “an imminent risk of serious injury or death … where no Place of Safety in the force area can manage the risk … and where authorised by an inspector or above”.
So there should be no presumption after use of s136 in custody, that the person can stay there, just because they may have been there for several hours whilst under arrested and detained under PACE. The person should still be removed unless those criteria are met, including the inspector’s authority.
It should be borne in mind that this publication comes on the same day the Independent Office for Police Conduct announces their decision to drop directed misconduct hearings for officers involved in the death of Thomas Orchard in Exeter in 2012. Thomas was detained originally under the Public Order Act but debate occurred afterwards about whether he should have been detained under the Mental Health Act and whether he should ever have been in police custody. These debates play out in the real world, find tragically attendant circumstances to behold.
So if you are a frontline police officer on response or a neighbourhood type role, what should you take away from these data? —
Two things to bear in mind, when you arrive in healthcare settings –
Any custody sergeant who has been responsible for the detention of a PACE suspect who is thought to be mentally ill and in the process of being assessed or admitted to hospital under the MHA as part of diverting them from justice, should bear in mind the various obligations that arise if they decide to release someone (no further action / bail / under investigation):
Nothing more to add really! – it all just tells us what we broadly already know and highlights a few things that we still don’t know enough about. Perhaps most importantly, is the requirement to improve legal knowledge and to ensure that local partnerships have the capacity to manage the demand they are facing.
This stuff is not just debate about statistics, it attends to the essential safety, dignity and rights of those of us whose lives are affected by emotional and mental distress in contact with the state. There’s little more to say on all this stuff, just lost more to do, as ever.
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, 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 – http://www.legislation.gov.uk