The review into the Mental Health Act (MHA) chaired by Professor Sir Simon Wessely has published its final report. The main changes to the criminal justice system (CJS) proposed in the report relate to police responses to people in crisis, court powers to divert people to hospital where necessary, and transferring people from prison to hospital.
In relation to people in the CJS, the report stated that they should have equivalence of access to mental health care but the evidence showed this was not currently the case. The report suggests police cells should no longer be considered as places of safety for people in crisis. It was noted that sufficient mental health services would have to be commissioned to enable this in practice, as police are currently often having to step in to fill gaps in services.
The report noted that it is important that courts are able to respond to mental health issues at the earliest opportunity and therefore recommended that magistrates' courts be given powers to seek assessments and remand defendants to hospital at first court appearance, if necessary. The report noted evidence suggesting courts had to remand people for their own protection, where there were no other suitable options due to a lack of secure beds in hospital. To resolve this, it is recommended that courts are no longer able to remand people to custody for their own protection but instead are given the power to send people straight to hospital for assessment and treatment. It was acknowledged that this change would need to be accompanied by an increase in the number of available hospital beds.
The report also noted that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are significantly disproportionately likely to be subject to compulsory powers under the Mental Health Act, and made recommendations in each section to highlight and address this disparity.