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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 12:31 GMT
Mental health row set to reopen
Depressed man
Mental health campaigners are concerned
Controversial laws allowing people with untreatable personality disorders to be detained, even if they have not committed a crime, are to be revived.

The draft Mental Health Bill was axed in March amid much opposition.

But some of the key proposals are to be retained in a forthcoming bill promised in the Queen's Speech which will update the 1983 Mental Health Act.

Campaigners said the plans to update England's 23-year-old laws would represent an abuse of civil liberties.

The draft Mental Health Bill had proposed allowing people to face compulsory treatment even if their condition could not be treated. Under the plans, they would have been able to be held for 28 days before facing a tribunal.

If the government pushes ahead with this it will mean people with mental health problems have fewer rights than someone suspected of burglaries
Jane Harris, of Rethink

The bill was first published in 2002 but redrafted several times among much opposition from campaigners, doctors, politicians and academics.

One of the main criticisms was that it made it too easy to detain people with some warning even those with mild conditions may be locked up.

The desire to change the law was largely driven by Michael Stone's 1998 conviction for the brutal murders of Lin and Megan Russell.

Stone was regarded as a dangerous psychopath and it has been assumed he was not held under mental health powers because his condition was considered untreatable.

However, a subsequent inquiry has found this not to be the case as he was receiving treatment but gaps in his care meant he was not given the correct care.

'Treatable'

Under the 1983 Mental Health Act patients can be sectioned, but only if their condition is treatable.

The new law is likely to propose allowing compulsory therapy if "appropriate treatment will be available".

The bill will also suggest beefing up supervised community treatment for patients who have been seen in hospital.

This is being included to ensure patients comply with treatment and safeguard the public.

The bill is expected to be published quite soon, possibly before Christmas.

Mental health legislation cannot be used to detain people whom the authorities simply want locked away
Dr Tony Calland, of the British Medical Association

Jane Harris, campaigns manager at the Rethink mental health charity, said: "If the government pushes ahead with this it will mean people with mental health problems have fewer rights than someone suspected of burglaries.

"It will be an abuse of our civil liberties."

And Andy Bell, of the Mental Health Alliance, an umbrella group of charities and professionals, added: "We have some major concerns about this. The law is getting outdated and needs some changing to bring it up to date with human rights legislation.

"But if it goes ahead it will be a missed opportunity."

And Dr Tony Calland, of the British Medical Association's ethics committee, said the civil liberties of people with mental health disorders could be severely compromised.

He added: "Mental health legislation cannot be used to detain people whom the authorities simply want locked away."

The Queen also announced the Government will seek to revise the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

Detailed proposals are expected in the coming weeks and will reform regulation and is likely to give single women and lesbian couples an entitlement to fertility treatment.

The present law states that fertility doctors should take account of a child's need for a father before offering a woman treatment, irrespective of whether it is on the National Health Service or private.

A crackdown on internet sites selling sperm is also likely to be part of the plans.

The Queen also said the Government would push ahead with NHS reform, including providing more care in the community and reducing waiting lists.


SEE ALSO
Mental Health Bill 'to be axed'
23 Mar 06 |  Health
Protecting the public?
23 Mar 05 |  Health

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