The amendment would reduce the maximum time for which an individual can be held in detention without renewal from three years back to 12 months. The Bill would allow responsible bodies to renew an authorisation of deprivation of liberty in some cases for up to three years, while simultaneously reducing the safeguards that a renewal process would require. The amendment would shorten that three-year period to a maximum of 12 months.
Why is that important? Tripling the potential length of an authorisation period to three years creates a stark difference between the Mental Capacity Act and the Mental Health Act, apart from anything else, and moves away from best practice in other countries. Paired with the new LPS renewal process, which weakens safeguards designed to prevent lengthy detentions, a three-year authorisation will be likely to face legal challenge.
At its core, the new LPS system is intended to safeguard vulnerable people who have been deprived of their liberty on mental capacity grounds. The possibility of a three-year period of detention with limited safeguards gets the balance wrong between safeguarding vulnerable individuals and the desire to reduce the bureaucracy of the system.
Strasbourg case law confirms that a lawful deprivation of liberty for the purposes of Article 5(1)(e) of the ECHR must include both “limits in terms of time” and “continuing clinical assessment of the persistence of a disorder warranting detention”. Therefore, in order to comply with Article 5, any system must contain, first, a provision for the termination of the authorisation after the maximum time has expired and, secondly, an ability to terminate an authorisation before the time limit has expired if the deprivation of liberty is no longer necessary.
A three-year renewal limit is likely to pose problems for responsible bodies, especially in cases concerning conditions such as learning disabilities, acquired brain injuries and other non-degenerative mental impairments. The courts are likely to intervene to interpret those paragraphs concerning renewals—paragraphs 27(a)(ii), 28(b)(ii) and 29(1)(b)—as narrowly as possible. Capacity assessments are time specific, and a three year-old capacity assessment cannot be relied on as accurate evidence for detention. Therefore, we propose to reduce the three years to 12 months.
It is notable that a 2017 paper comparing mental health legislation in five different jurisdictions—Canada, Australia, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and England and Wales—states that renewal orders vary in different jurisdictions,
“with the time periods for subsequent orders being longer in duration up to a maximum of 12 months, except in Ontario (3 months) and Victoria (6 months)”.
The Law Commission states that a three-year period should be considered only in the context of robust safeguards and constant review. Given the weakening of the safeguards throughout the rest of the Bill, it would be inappropriate to triple the length of time for which an authorisation can last.
In his opening remarks on the Bill, the Minister stated:
“It is essential that the system afford the necessary protections for the most vulnerable people”.—[
The Bill as currently drafted would in this respect not deliver that protection. I beg to move.