Coroners & Justice Bill second reading in the Lords puts the focus on mental heath fatalities

Coroners & Justice Bill second reading in the Lords puts the focus on mental heath fatalities

Human rights campaigns group, Black Mental Health UK has added their voice to calls for inquests into deaths in custody to be heard automatically before a jury as the Coroners and Justice Bill 2009 has its second reading in the House of Lords this week.

Proposals within the Bill to limit the set of circumstances in which an inquest will be heard before a jury where the person died in detention either under the Mental Health Act or the Immigration Act has raised serious concerns amongst health campaigners.

According to section.7 of this Bill cases of negligence, gross negligence, neglect and systemic failures would not be heard before juries. Community leaders say that this proposal will damage the confidence of families and the public that such inquests are independent and impartial.

Figures from the National Patient Safety Agency show that there are now up to four deaths every day of patients in psychiatric care. Campaigners say this reinforces the need for juries at the inquests of these cases in order to ensure public accountability.

Detention rates of people from African Caribbean communities under the Mental Health Act are now at an all time high. Figures from the government’s Count Me In Census report on inpatient care show that black people are over 44% more likely to be sectioned than their white counterparts, despite having similar rates of mental ill health as any other ethnic group.

The over representation of black people within these custodial setting has raised fears among race equality groups that black families will be hit hardest the proposals in this Bill.

‘The tragic death of David Bennett , while in psychiatric care proved to be a complex case that required scrutiny of systems and procedures as well as the acts of individuals in charge of his case. This is best dealt with by a jury in order to assure the family and public that justice will be done. Section 7 of the Coroners Justice Bill needs to be amended to ensure all deaths in state custody or detention are automatically heard before juries,’ Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said.

‘There should not be any restriction on the information available surrounding a death in custody under the Mental Health Act, especially in cases where there may have been abuses in hospital. It was the information presented at David Bennett’s inquest that led to a public inquiry. In the case of black people it is often the only time that the failings in they way they are treated within the mental health system are exposed,’consultant psychiatrist, professor Suman Fernando, honorary lecturer at London Metropolitan University said

‘The recent Count Me Census shows that black people continue to be over represented in mental health settings under the Mental Health Act, this will effect African Caribbean communities more than any other. Someone who used our services recently died after he was taken to a secure unit, it is a tragic loss. Part of the healing process is that we assume that there will be this inquest with a jury where we will find out how it happened, without this it is hard to see what safeguards are in place to ensure justice for bereaved families,’ Alicia Spence services director of the African Caribbean Community Initiative (ACCI) said

‘There are so many cases where there have been miscarriages of justice that have only come to light during an inquest, which was heard before an independent jury. This Bill requires an inquest by jury when deaths occur in prison or police custody but not those detained under the Mental Health Act, it says something about the status that is given people who need mental health care,’ pastor Desmond Hall chair of Christians Together in Brent said.

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