If the Mental Health Bill ever did purport to take civil liberties seriously, it is now much harder to argue that this is the case.
For example, the tribunals to be set up under the new legislation were supposed to be a more effective safeguard for patients under section than the Mental Health Act 1983. But the bill’s aspirations have turned out to be a sham. Civil liberties, far from being strengthened, risk being crushed once again under the authoritarian juggernaut. The tribunals intended to test the validity of detention and treatment are likely to be under-resourced, making them much slower to uphold patients’ rights. It has also been suggested that doctors will not necessarily be among the professionals who sit on the tribunals; medical domination is to be feared, but much less so where the objectivity of medical judgements is at stake.
Furthermore, community treatment orders could be extended from six months to a year. These orders are already so hedged about with restrictions on patients’ freedom of movement and association that they have been dubbed “clinical Asbos”. Compulsory treatment in the community will make sense if, as expected, it reduces readmissions to hospital. But the proposed CTOs are too heavy-handed and will be a nightmare to enforce, both for carers and for professionals. It might have been a “bill of rights”. It has turned out to be just the opposite.