Joint Committee on Human Rights press notice no. 12

Session 2006-07, 4 February 2007


Extra safeguards must be built in to the Mental Health Bill to protect mental health patients and their families, say a Committee of MPs and Peers today.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights is recommending that the Mental Health Bill, currently awaiting report stage in the Lords, must be amended.

They are concerned that some areas of the Bill have been drawn too broadly and risk the possibility that a person could be detained without having an actual mental disorder, or that a patient's representative could be replaced for being "difficult".


The Committee questions the Bill's proposal to change the person with the authority to renew detention from a medical doctor to a "responsible clinician", such as a nurse or social worker. The Committee state that "objective medical expertise" is required to deprive someone of their liberty, whether detaining someone for the first time or renewing the detention. The Committee does not agree with the Government's proposed wider definition.

Under the Bill, the grounds for detention are to change from "a true mental disorder" to "any disorder or disability of mind", which could include certain sexual disorders The Committee believes that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and sexual identity may occur as a result.


The Committee considers that imposing treatment without consent must be primarily to protect health, and that this should be written into the Bill. "Available treatment" should only be compelled if it is likely to be of therapeutic benefit to the patient.

The Committee also says that the Bill does not include effective safeguards over treatment without consent, like psychotropic medication or electro-convulsive therapy, to patients detained under mental capacity legislation.

The Committee urges the Government to put safeguards on forcible feeding and use of seclusion of patients in place on the face of the Bill.

Mental capacity

The Committee recommends that even where mentally incapacitated people do not object to being detained, they must still only be detained in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law.

The patient's representative

Under the Bill, a patient could remove their appointed "nearest relative" if they were not suitable, for example in cases where abuse is alleged. But the Committee heard concerns that a hospital or local authority could also use this broader test of "suitability" to remove a relative who they consider "difficult".

Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Joint Human Rights Committee, said:

"The principles of caring for people with mental health problems and protecting the public are vitally important. Administrative convenience, broad brush definitions, and costs savings should not come before ensuring that patients are only detained appropriately, and for no longer than is necessary; and that there are robust safeguards when they are forcibly treated against their will. We believe the Bill presently lacks the necessary precision and protections for the human rights of people in extremely vulnerable circumstances. We hope the government will respond positively to our recommendations and improve the bill as we suggest."


[Notes to editors:

1. The Chairman of the Committee, Andrew Dismore MP, is available for interview and contactable by pager on 07659 592094.

2. The Committee membership is given below.

3. The Committee's Report is its 4th Report of Session 2006-07, Legislative Scrutiny: Mental Health Bill, House of Lords Paper 40/House of Commons Paper 288.

4. The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 16 November 2006. It concluded its Committee stage on 29 January and is awaiting report stage in the Lords.

5. Media inquiries: Ms Jessica Bridges-Palmer: 020 7219 0724

The report will be available from The Stationery Office (tel: 0870 600 5522), Parliamentary Hotline Lo-call 0845 7 023474, Email:, Internet:, TSO shops, The Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, London SW1A 2JX (tel 020 7219 3890) and through good booksellers. It will also be on the Committee's website at the address below.


Mr Andrew Dismore MP (Labour, Hendon) (Chairman)
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie (Conservative)
Mr Douglas Carswell MP (Conservative, Harwich)
Lord Judd (Labour)
Nia Griffith MP (Labour, Llanelli)
Lord Lester of Herne Hill (Liberal Democrat)
Dr Evan Harris MP (Liberal Democrat, Oxford West & Abingdon)
The Earl of Onslow (Conservative)
Mr Richard Shepherd MP (Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills)
Lord Plant of Highfield (Labour)
Mark Tami MP (Labour, Alyn and Deeside)
Baroness Stern (Cross-Bencher)

Clerks of the Committee: Mr Nick Walker (House of Commons) 020 7219 2797 and Mr Bill Sinton (House of Lords) 020 7219 5358

ENQUIRIES: 020 7219 2797/2467 FAX: 020 7219 8393 E-MAIL:


MEDIA INQUIRIES: Ms Jessica Bridges-Palmer: 020 7219 0724