At some stage in the next few months, the Part IV of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 will be subject to a commencement order in Parliament which brings in amendments to Part X of the Mental Health Act 1983 – this part of the MHA relates, amongst other things, to police powers under the Act. The MHA itself has been amended and updated many times over recent years: by the Care Act 2014, by the Mental Health Act 2007, by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and many other frameworks, but Part X has remained more-or-less untouched, certainly in terms of the substantive role and responsibilities of the police. Indeed, sections 135/6 of the Mental Health Act 1983 were carried over almost entirely untouched from the Mental Health Act 1959. So the commencement order we will see at some stage soon represents the first time in almost sixty years that police powers and responsibilities have been changed – since the decade where Buddy Holly was singing live music and where him doing so represented a series threat to those who much preferred hearing of pink toothbrushes and blue toothbrushes.
More seriously, think about how mental health care has developed since the late ’50s – antipsychotics had only just been introduced to mental health care and had massive side effects, far greater even than those patients still live with today; we were yet to hear speeches from people like President Kennedy in the US or Enoch Powell MP in the UK which would start the political process of deinstitutionalising our approach to mental health care. We were yet to learn one indirect consequence of deinstitutionalisation: mass criminalisation of vulnerable and incarceration in prison of many of us with serious health problems. Also consider how policing has changed: officers didn’t have radios or many of the other modern accoutrements of policing, like tasers or access to PNC and other information sources – they were formally marched out of police stations each shift by sergeants and sent on foot patrols. They did this in a setting where Human Rights and Health & Safety considerations were less at the forefront of our imagination. Indeed as they did this, attempted suicide was still a criminal offence and homosexual conduct was listed as a mental illness in major international documents.
I don’t police the same society my wife’s grandfather policed and our jobs are notably different notwithstanding we operationally policed the same city, fifty years apart – so it’s well overdue that police powers under the Mental Health Act were updated!
THE PaCA SERIES
This introduction just set the scene for a series of BLOG posts over the coming weeks, each one of them focussing on an individual change being made to Part X of the MHA 1983. You may remember the major aspects in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 affecting the MHA are –
This should set out how the law is changing to and highlight some practical considerations for what this may mean in operational practice for officers and mental health services. If you want to read it for yourself, see the UK Government legislation website. The second bullet above, will obviously come last in the series, because the Government are yet to publish the statutory Regulations which will precisely define the ‘exceptional circumstances’. Whilst I’ve got a good clue what it’s going to say, we’ll have to wait and see before we can weigh it up!
There are some major debates that needs stringing when we consider this legislation and must remember, this is not guidance or opinion: it is the law being changed and compliance with it is not optional. I’m doing the series, quite frankly, because there are many standard questions coming through about what the law will say and what it will mean in practice but also because I’m hearing opinion from mental health professionals and police officers alike that they believe their area is not prepared for the changes and will not be ready. So we need to support senior managers getting in the same room at the same time and start talking this through, based on what the line does actually say.
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