The Mental Health Capacity Amendment Bill affects hundreds of thousands of people – it must be treated with appropriate care
A Bill discussed in Parliament today will affect the liberty of hundreds of thousands of people. This afternoon the Lords will debate the Mental Capacity Amendment Bill – a monumental task given the problems with it and the pitiful amount of time dedicated to scrutiny.
The Bill concerns the ‘who, when and how’ of taking away the freedom of people lacking mental capacity. It affects the elderly, and anyone with learning disabilities, dementia and brain injuries – as well as their families.
Following a lengthy consultation carried out by the Law Commission, the Bill seeks to replace the heavily criticised Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) with a new system of Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS). But it diverges from many of the Commission’s original suggestions – sometimes without explanation.
While reform in this area is welcome, the Bill needs to be strengthened considerably to make sure people are not having their liberty deprived inappropriately and that those in detention have strong safeguards to appeal against their situation.
As drafted, the proposals limit the ability to appeal against detention, access to appropriate advocacy for those who need it, and opportunities for a deprivation of liberty to be refused.
The wishes and feelings of the cared-for person are also sidelined from the heart of the decision making process.
Compounding these problems, no equality impact assessment has been published and there has been no consultation on the currently invisible Code of Practice on how the Bill will operate.
And a survey of over 900 people working within the current DoLS system showed that there is significant concern surrounding the proposals – especially with regard to the weakening of people’s rights to challenge decisions.
No time for scrutiny
Baroness Jolly has stressed the importance of producing “an A-plus Bill to send to the Commons.” She says it “may take more time than the Government want, but all the people affected by the Bill deserve better.”
They do, but so far the Bill has been allocated just one day of Committee Stage debate in September (today), and most likely just one other day in October.
The Mental Health Capacity Amendment Bill will affect hundreds of thousands of people and must be treated as such. Two days of debate is a disgrace which could end up costing lives. Many parliamentarians have themselves pointed out this is certainly not enough time for them to get to grips with what is a complex Bill which will have serious consequences for so many.
Liberty has a long and proud history of securing mental health reform dating back to the 1950s, and we’re working with organisations that advocate on behalf of people with dementia, learning disabilities, autism and mental health to improve this Bill as it goes through the House of Lords.
The rights of those deprived of liberty on mental capacity grounds matter. We, and many others, are trying to make sure the proposals get the attention and scrutiny they require. If the Government is serious about getting this right, it must create more time to debate the issues at stake.