A little lack of knowledge can be a dangerous thing –
A couple of years ago, I learned of a perculiar incident in a police force area that would have made a great blog to emphasise a point, but it was so specific, I withheld from doing it, in case it self-identified those involved. I have since learned of two other cases under review where a similarly distinct legal point was at heart of what occurred. I’ve also heard this from AMHPs recently and I’m at a loss as to where it comes from: hence this post.
It concerns the police execution of warrants issued under s135(1) of the Mental Health Act 1983 and whether we must, by law, work out in advance where the person may be removed to. So the exam question is this:
Is it lawful to execute a s135(1) warrant and take the decision to remove someone to a Place of Safety even if nowhere has been pre-identified to act as a PoS under the Act and / or where no bed has been pre-identified for the patient’s admission?
And the answer is: YES, it is lawful.
The cases I’m alluding to but not describing in detail involved situations where an AMHP or a local policy has ended up creating the impression that a lack of PoS space or admission bed is a legal barrier to the execution of a warrant and removal from the premises. This needs to be knocked on the head because it’s wrong and police officers need to know what one of the sergeants in these incidents did, when dealing with an AMHP who insisted that an admissions bed must be available.
Ultimately, the police cannot apply for s135(1) warrants or execute them without an AMHP and DR present, so AMHPs are absolutely key to the decisions about the application and execution of warrants. Nothing can happen without their consent and cooperation. So imagine a scenario: everything is jacked up for the execution of the warrant, the AMHP does a last minute check that the ‘bed’ is still available and learns that it’s not. They state the execution of the warrant will have to be delayed but they’ve already been emphasising the risk to the patient or others if they are not assessed in circumstances where they are highly likely to be admitted to hospital under the Act.
In one of the cases prior to the MHA changes in December 2017, the sergeant in charge said something along these lines, “A warrant under the Act doesn’t need a bed and given the risks you’ve highlighted leading to us all being here, why don’t we just execute the warrant anyway and remove him to a Custody if nowhere else, so he’s safe, supervised and secured? You can then resolve your bed problem in the time available …” This occurred before the 2017 amendments to the use of custody but the underlying point remains valid. It’s a good job he wrote that down along with the AMHPs decision not to execute the warrant – it meant no accountability for the untowards event that occurred before a bed was found and the patient detained.
For your reflection and general smoking –
Of course, what no-one wants is someone detained under a warrant and have nowhere obvious to go – there are already far too many cases like that under section 136. But I do know this: if someone is held in such a predicament, they’re not out getting themselves seriously hurt or worse.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing – but so can a little lack of it. Get knowledge: then go do stuff.
Winner of the President’sMedal from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award