Only last week I was asked whether I knew what had happened to Seni’s Law – for those who don’t know what this means, it was the campaigning name for new legislation which eventually became the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018, named in memory of Seni Lewis who died in a south London mental health unit in circumstances which cause the Coroner to offer significant criticism of the police and mental health services. The Act is intended to strengthen the oversight and scrutiny to all use of force inside mental health units but some have wondered what has happened to it all, given it’s now three years since the Bill introduced by MP Steve Reed received Royal Assent.
Well, having been asked about it only last week and my having given an answer which broadly said, “I’ve no idea – I’m not aware of it having had a commencement regulations to bring it in to law”, there has been an announcement today. The announcement leaves me a touch confused, however and that’s what this post is about.
The government has published information on their website which states “Today, the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act will commence to better protect patients in mental health settings over the inappropriate use of force.” Meanwhile, on the governments legislation website, I looked for the commencement regulations and found some which bring most sections of the Act in to play on 31st March 2022. What appears to be brought in today, is the new statutory guidance – not the law itself.
Confusing, isn’t it?!
Of relevance to those who are interested in the policing implications of this Act will know that section 12 of the Act relates to police use of body-worn cameras when attending inpatient units to assist staff. If you examine the detail of the above commencement regulations, you’ll notice section 12 is not brought in to play even on 31st March next year. You’ll have to make your own guess as to why this is, given how widespread police use of body-worn video now is. For my part, I see mainly upsides in the police use of body-worn video – it largely shows us what a great effort officers are making to do a difficult job well.
But when the Bill was first introduced it struck me that two things were somewhat colliding: the idea of body-worn video to improve police accountability is one thing; but privacy in mental health units where there were already difficult discussions about use of CCTV and other forms of surveillance, is quite another. I’m wondering whether these two things somewhat colliding is the reason why more consideration is being given to the commencement date for s12? – that all said, nothing in law prevents officers activating their cameras and force policies about activation will almost universally say they should be doing it.
Best I can tell: most of the Act does not become law until next year, albeit the new guidance was published today and we don’t yet know when s12 will become law so watch this space.
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, 2021
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Government legislation website – www.legislation.gov.uk