Ministers retreat on law to lock up mental patients


Last updated at 23:39 13 June 2007

Ministers have climbed down over controversial

powers to detain dangerous mental patients and force them to submit to treatment.

They have agreed to compromise with opponents

of the Mental Health Bill, which the Government has been trying to get into law for nine years.

The Bill is designed to make it

easier to section people with

mental health problems if they

have not committed an offence

but are deemed a risk to the


It has always faced opposition

in Parliament over concerns

about the civil liberties of

potential offenders.

But campaigners for victims’

rights say the compromise will

mean there will still be a loophole

in the law allowing some

dangerous patients to avoid

treatment, putting members of

the public at risk.

On Wednesday health minister Rosie

Winterton announced that

ministers were ‘looking closely’

at an amendment which would

put limits on whether dangerous

patients could be sectioned.

The climbdown is over the

notion of ‘treatability’. Existing

mental health legislation, which

goes back to 1983, says people

should be sectioned only if their

condition is considered treatable

and that locking them up will

help them.

But this means it is very hard

to section people with severe

psychological problems, which

are seen as being difficult to treat.

The Government wanted to

repeal the ‘treatability’ clause

but was defeated in the Lords

earlier this year.

Now ministers are considering

an amendment from backbench

MP Chris Bryant which would be

a compromise between the two


It would permit enforced

treatment if it is ‘intended to alleviate

a condition or prevent it from

getting worse’.

But Michael Howlett, director

of the Zito Trust, said: ‘The

treatability loophole has allowed

the medical profession to stop

people from accessing NHS

services because they say they

haven’t got any treatments that

can help them.

‘All the Government is doing is

replacing the old loophole with

another one, and that will leave

us with the same problem.

‘We need to make sure these

people get treatment – otherwise

they will end up in prison.’

Ministers also announced they

would climb down on

controversial powers to allow doctors to

set restrictions on the movement

of mental health patients.

They will amend clauses in the

bill to water down community

treatment orders, which have

been dubbed ‘psychiatric

ASBOs’ because they would

have allowed doctors to ban

patients from certain places.

CTOs are designed to be used

by doctors to force mentally-ill

offenders to attend

appointments and take their medication

after release.

Opponents, backed by

Conservative leader David Cameron,

argued this would give doctors

free rein to restrict an

individual’s behaviour or lifestyle, such

as banning them from going to

the pub. The changes to CTOs

rule this out.

The shake-up of the law was

driven by Michael Stone’s 1998

conviction for the murders of Lin

and Megan Russell. Around 55

murders a year are committed by

mental health patients.

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