The Law Society’s Vice President, Christina Blacklaws, today offered scathing criticism of the current regime for the detention and treatment of the mentally ill.

In an official response to the Government’s independent review of the Mental Health Act, the Law Society, the independent professional body for solicitors, warned that vulnerable people sectioned under the Mental Health Act are being subjected to medical treatment without consent and are not protected by effective legal safeguards.

Review of the Mental Health Act

Theresa May announced the review at the Conservative Party Conference on 4 October 2017. It is chaired by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, Regius Professor of Psychiatry at King’s College London and President of the Royal Society of Medicine.

The review is tasked to examine how the Mental Health Act is used and what improvements can be made to it, specifically addressing:

  • Rising rates of detention
  • The disproportionate number of BAME patients subject to detention
  • Processes that are out of step with a modern mental health care system

The review’s consultation process with stakeholders concludes today. It is anticipated that recommendations for changes will be published in autumn 2018.

The Law Society’s criticisms

Ms Blacklaws is a claimant specialist in mental health and public law children’s cases. She said:

‘As the law stands today, someone detained under the Mental Health Act… may be treated without their consent for the first three months of their detention without any safeguards. This must stop.

‘Children may not be able to challenge their detention or treatment at all. The Law Society is calling for specific safeguards for children receiving in-patient psychiatric care.’

The Law Society response calls for the end to mixed-sex psychiatric wards since the:

‘Disturbed/disinhibited behaviour of some patients hinders the recovery of others, making them vulnerable and infringing personal dignity.’

Community Treatment orders also came under fire, described as:

‘A crude mechanism for the chronic bed management issues in hospitals.’

The position adopted by the Law Society is perhaps indicative of a wider willingness to consider change in mental health law in the UK.