HC Deb 26 April 2002 vol 384 cc477-8W
Harry Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what guidelines are set for the(a) circumstances and (b) length of custody of persons with a history of mental illness; and if he will make a statement. [41884]

Mr. Denham

If a police officer has any suspicion that a person held in police custody may be mentally disordered or mentally handicapped, he must apply special protections for that person as set out in the relevant code of practice (Code C) issued under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). These include summoning an "appropriate adult" to assist and advise the detained person and (where the person appears to be suffering from a mental disorder) calling for the police surgeon.

Persons with a history of mental illness are subject to the same rules covering length of detention as other detainees. Under PACE where a person has been arrested for an offence they may be detained in police custody for up to 24 hours without being charged. This period can be extended to 36 hours by a police officer of the rank of Superintendent or above where a person is arrested for a serious arrestable offence. Further periods of detention up to a maximum of 96 hours can be approved by a magistrates' court.

Where a person arrested is charged with an offence they must be released from police detention unless certain conditions apply, such as where the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the person charged will fail to appear in court to answer to bail. Where such a person is kept in police detention they must be brought before the relevant magistrates' court as soon as is practicable and normally not later than the first sitting after they are charged with the offence.

Where a person charged with an offence is arrested on warrant for failing to attend a magistrates' court, they must be taken back to that magistrates' court as soon as practicable. If a person is arrested in a different part of the country they must appear not later than the first sitting of the magistrates' court after their transfer back to the relevant area.

All persons detained in police custody have their detention reviewed on a regular basis. The first review is no later than six hours after the detention was first authorised. The second review is no later than nine hours after the first review. Subsequent reviews are at intervals of not more than nine hours.

A mentally disordered or mentally handicapped person who has been detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 can he taken to a police station as a place of safety to be assessed. The person can be detained only until such time as they have been interviewed and examined by an approved social worker and a registered medical practitioner, and suitable arrangements have been made for their treatment and care.

There are currently several strands of work focused on improving police practice in relation to mentally ill individuals. The Home Office, the Department of Health and the Association of Chief Police Officers are considering the development of national protocols covering the interaction between the police and health services in dealing with the mentally ill. The current review of the PACE Codes of Practice is seeking to strengthen further the protections for mentally ill detainees, particularly in terms of assessing their vulnerabilities and fitness for interview. In addition, the review of the Mental Health Act which is underway recognises that police cells are not generally appropriate places for assessing whether a person needs medical treatment.