Clause 62 - Mental health treatment requirement

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 15th September 2011.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Justice) 4:45 pm, 15th September 2011

I am not reassured. I knew there was a practical problem; I was going to address it and will tell Government Members why. As I understand it, the Mental Health Act 1983 extended the range of professionals whose approval was necessary to certify treatment. In the Mental Health Act 2007, the definition was broadened to include the following: a registered medical practitioner, a chartered psychologist, a first-level nurse whose field of practice is mental health or learning disability, a registered occupational therapist, and a registered social worker.

The Minister seems to suggest that it is difficult to get reports from that long list of professionals. Opposition Members, however, feel that the clause is too risky and that it is inappropriate. Evidence from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the charity, Rethink, shows that  people are currently paid only £60 for writing such reports, before court proceedings. For that reason, there is huge difficulty in getting those people to prioritise them in their work load, which is why the pre-sentence reports take time to write and why there are delays.

We have had evidence from somebody—since the Minister disrupted me, I cannot find my notes. However, evidence shows that when the right medical report is not received at the right time, people may end up having more court hearings than they would have had otherwise. We would like the Minister to understand the matter in a slightly different way, because we think that putting medical practitioners to one side carries two risks. The first is that people who should have mental health treatment do not get it. The second, which is equally problematic, is that people who do not need it, get it. I put it to the Minister that such a situation would be rather Kafkaesque.

Furthermore, evidence given to the Justice Committee in 2008 found that defending barristers frequently recommend their clients to refuse to go along with mental health treatment requirements if the requirement, which is part of the community order, is longer than an alternative custody sentence that might be given. That is seriously problematic, because for completely inappropriate reasons, people are not getting the treatment that they need. People suffering from mental health issues are not in the best position to judge their own mental health, and those who are involved in the criminal justice system are already people who, because of mental health problems, may sometimes—not always—be extremely difficult to manage. The Minister is trying to rely solely, as we read the proposals, on the individual’s consent.

Another point made by the Royal College of Psychiatrists was that where a person refuses treatment but still requires it under a mental health treatment order, they might not fulfil the criteria for sectioning. That is why the college would like to see a section 12 approved person involved in the process.

I am sorry to say that the proposals look like a very inappropriate public spending statement, which is not at all in line with the Bradley report of 2009, which said:

“The first step to the effective management of offenders is the existence of good early identification and assessment of problems, which can inform how and where they are most appropriately treated.”

If we do not have the involvement of people who are medically qualified, that simply will not happen. Probation officers are not trained in mental health and it is quite wrong to put responsibility for making judgments on to them, just as it is unfair to the offenders.

I hope that the Minister read the Bradley report before he proposed the measure. Let me remind him of what Bradley said. He said that the pre-sentence report needed to address four things: culpability, or whether the mental health problem explains the crime; the risk of repeat; the feasibility of the community order versus custody; and supervision, should psychiatric treatment be involved. He also wanted the sentencer to consider whether going to prison would make the person’s mental health condition better or worse.

Instead of sorting out the problem, managing the system properly—the system does not work as well as it should at the moment—or putting in resources, the  Government are simply abandoning the idea that medical professionals should be involved, and we cannot go along with that.