Bill faces legal threat

The forthcoming mental health bill could face a legal challenge, according to a campaigner, following claims from government-appointed advisers that a full race impact assessment of the planned laws has not been carried out.

A leaked report from the group set up to advise the government on carrying out a race equality impact assessment says the tight timescale it was set has meant it has not had the opportunity to fulfil its terms of reference.

And it argues there has not been enough time to properly carry out the assessment. It believes it should have been conducted at an earlier stage of the development of the bill, which was first published in draft in September 2004.

The group itself was established in May and held a workshop for members of the wider black and minority ethnic community over the summer. Government consultation events on the assessment were held in November and an internet consultation in the same month lasted two weeks.

Marcel Vige, joint chair of the BME Mental Health Network, which was represented on the group, said the assessment could be challenged by the Commission for Racial Equality.

The government is legally bound by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 to carry out an assessment, although non-binding guidance sets out how it must be carried out.

Vige said the critical question would be whether the CRE thought the government had adequately fulfilled its responsibilities. The network hopes to meet CRE chair Trevor Phillips to discuss the matter.

Vige said government needed to allow an extra four months to carry out a proper assessment involving a wider section of the community.

And he argued the assessment had been initiated so late in the process, with work on the bill in its final stages, that it had little chance of resulting in any significant changes.

A CRE spokesperson said it had made the DH aware of the need for a full assessment and was aware of the concerns raised. He said it looked forward to seeing the assessment when it was published.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it was considering the advisers’ report.

She said the assessment would be published alongside the bill, which it was aiming to table during the current parliamentary session, which runs until the summer.

Click here for the report

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