The Act comes after 10 years of lobbying for a statutory offence of corporate manslaughter, after a number of high profile black deaths in custody as well as rail disasters and deaths on construction sites.
This change means that for the first time organisations and institutions can now be called to account when there is a death in custody. Exemptions previously removed the right of bereaved families to prosecute services when a loved one in care died due to negligence or neglect.
Manslaughter charges can now be also brought against the hospital authorities. The threat of prosecution will, it is hoped, lead to more humane treatment of mental health patients and a reduction in the death rate of those detained in care. Latest figures show over 300 people have died while detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act in 2007 alone.
The tragic death of David Bennett African Caribbean patient, who died after being restrained by a team of five nurses, and the subsequent Inquiry report brought to the nation’s attention the routine human rights abuses faced by black patients in care.
The over representation of African Caribbean’s within medium and secure psychiatric settings has meant that people from these communities routinely have to endure human rights abuses. This was highlighted in the Mental Health Act Commission’s report entitled Risks, Rights and Recovery published earlier this year.
The new law will mean the courts will now be able to consider the collective actions of an organisations management team or more appropriately the failing of senor management and will no longer be reliant on having to prove one individual within an organisation guilty of gross negligence manslaughter.
‘When we see a successful prosecution go through and there begins to be proper accountability of those responsible for the health and wellbeing of the patients charged with their care, then we can be positive about this. The law is welcome but we must be aware that recommendations for better care and culpability are detailed within every coroner’s report that is published after a death in custody, so we will have to wait and see if this change does lead to a reduction in deaths,’ Brenda Wienberg chair of United Friends and Families Campaign said.
‘A system where those who are culpable can no longer hide behind the institutions in order to avoid taking responsibility for the death of those charged with their care is welcomed.
Hopefully it will send a message to senior management who are responsible to ensure patients are kept safe and will no longer feel free to turn a blind eye to bad practice.
We hope this changes leads to better people heading mental health hospitals, so that we see the death rate go down,’ Pastor Desmond Hall Chair of Christians Together in Brent Said.
‘It is good to have new safeguards that will bring organisations tasked with people’s health and wellbeing into account. This legislations may well influence practice, but it is the monitoring and implementation of the Act that will make the difference in patient care. We will only know the true impact of this new law over time so we will have to wait to see,’ Rev Paul Grey, pastor of New Testament Church of God said.
‘The change in the law will put the onus on the management not to turn a blind eye to bad practice. We welcome this as it will make professionals who run high secure and medium secure hospitals more accountable if anything goes wrong ,so that when there is a death in custody, management know that they will be held responsible,’ Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK said.
For interviews please call : 07852 182 750
Notes to the editor
• Black Mental Health UK is a human rights campaigns group established to address the over representation of African Caribbean’s within secure psychiatric care and raise awareness to address the stigma associated with mental health.
• African Caribbean’s are 44% more likely to be sectioned, 29% more likely to be forcibly restrained, 50% more likely to be placed in seclusion and make up 30% of in patients on medium secure psychiatric wards despite having similar rates of mental illness as British white people.