Bill faces legal threat after advisers attack time allotted to race study

The draft Mental Health Bill may face a legal challenge because of the way the race impact assessment on the planned laws was carried out.

It follows a leaked report by a government advisory group which questions the tight timescale given to undertake the assessment.

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

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

Vige said the critical question was whether the CRE thought the government had adequately fulfilled its responsibility to carry out the assessment properly. The network hopes to meet CRE chair Trevor Phillips to discuss the matter.

Vige said the government should allow an extra four months for an assessment that involves a wider section of the community.

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

A CRE spokesperson said it had made the Department of Health aware of the need for a full assessment and was aware of the concerns raised.

The advisory group believes the assessment should have been conducted at an earlier stage in the development of the bill, which was first published in draft in September 2004.

The group was established in May and held a workshop for members of ethnic minorities over the summer. Government consultation events on the assessment were held at short notice last month when a two-week internet consultation was also undertaken.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it was considering the advisers’ report. She said the assessment would be published alongside the bill, which it aimed to table during the current parliamentary session, which runs until next summer.

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