Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Mentally ill face 'Asbo' measures

UK Gov't 'Asbo' Anti Social Behaviour Order! Trust them they know best? 

UK: People with mental health problems living in the community could be banned from leaving their homes under proposals to reform mental health law, a legal expert has warned.

Under the controversial draft mental health bill, people under assessment or receiving care in the community must comply with a code of conduct imposed by their doctor, according to Phil Fennell, a professor from Cardiff University's law school.

The professor said that the measure would exacerbate discrimination as it effectively treated mental health problems as a form of antisocial behaviour.

The draft bill, which ministers expect to become law in 2007, states that mental health staff could impose "a condition that the patient does not engage in specified conduct".

If the patient fails to comply with the conditions they could be forcibly detained in hospital. Speaking at a conference in London on mental health reform, Professor Fennell likened the code of conduct to antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos).

The professor said: "[The conditions] are like Asbos. For example, a person could be stopped from going out to the pub in the evening if it was considered their mental health problems could be exacerbated by drinking.

"It's a very wide power indeed especially when one considers that clinical supervisors [mental health staff] can decide to treat someone in hospital."

Vicky Yeates, a senior law lecturer at the University of Glamorgan in Wales, raised concerns that the proposed legislation would make carers responsible for ensuring that patients did not break the code of conduct.

Ms Yeates, whose daughter has mental health problems, said the measure would turn carers into jailers and push families already under pressure to breaking point.

She said: "Who will bear responsibility that your loved one isn't hauled off into hospital? The carer. You're effectively becoming a policing agent of the state. I think this will have a deleterious effect on an already strained relationship."

The draft bill has faced overwhelming opposition from mental health professionals and service users. A revised version of the proposed legislation is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by an expert parliamentary committee.

By David Batty 27 October 04


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