On 6 July 2018, the House of Commons gave approval to the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill - known as "Seni's law", in respect of the late Olaseni Lewis, who died in 2010 following two prolonged periods of restraint by 11 police officers. Once enacted, the law places a much greater responsibility on mental health units to ensure that adequate policies, information for patients, training, and records are in place regarding the use of force on such units. There will be new obligations on police officers to wear body cameras when entering a mental health unit, and the Secretary of State will be required to review and report on the use of force in these settings.
The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill
The Bill states that its aim is to "make provision about the oversight and management of the appropriate use of force in relation to people in mental health units; to make provision about the use of body cameras by police offers in the course of duties in relation to people in mental health units; and for connected purposes".
In order to give effect to this, the Bill makes provision for the following:
Mental health units
- Mental health units to appoint a responsible person for the purposes of the Act;
- The responsible person to publish a policy regarding the use of force by staff, including the steps which will be taken to reduce the use of force used by staff;
- The responsible person to publish and provide to patients information about the rights of patients in relation to the use of force by staff who work in that unit. The responsible person must take steps to ensure that patients are aware of the information and understand it;
- The responsible person must provide training for staff that relates to the use of force, as soon as reasonably practical once the Act comes in to force; and
- The responsible person to keep a record of any use of force by staff who work in that unit.
- If a police officer is going to a mental health unit on duty that involves assisting staff who work in that unit, the officer must take a body camera and keep it operating at all times if reasonably practicable.
The Secretary of State
- The Secretary of State is to ensure that, at the end of the year, statistics are published regarding the use of force by staff who work in mental health units. This is to include an analysis of data on the use of force relating to patients' race, sex, religion and learning disability (as well as other relevant characteristics);
- The Secretary of State is also to conduct an annual review of any reports made under paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (a "preventing future death report" or "PFD report"); and
- The Secretary of State is to publish guidance about the exercise of functions by responsible persons and relevant health organisations under this Act.
The Bill is due to be considered by the House of Lords shortly, and we will provide a full update should it receive royal assent.