House of Commons debate on Coroners and Justice Bill puts spotlight on mental health fatalities

House of Commons debate on Coroners and Justice Bill puts spotlight on mental health fatalities

The Coroners and Justice Bill is due to be moved to the House of Commons today (Monday 9 November) and is expected to receive Royal Assent this week. Campaigners are angered over the rejection of calls for inquests into deaths in custody to be automatically heard before an independent jury.

Changes within this Bill will limit the circumstances in which inquests are heard in cases where a person dies while detained under the Mental Health or Immigration Act.

Under Section 7 of this Bill cases where vulnerable people die due to negligence, gross negligence and systematic failures would not be heard before juries. This has sparked fears among health campaigners that many abuses, which only come to light through an inquest could be covered up.

Black Mental Health UK lobbied parliament because of the importance of a jury at an inquest in ensuring that cases of negligence are properly investigated. They say many deaths in custody, which have initially appeared uncontentious have subsequently revealed failures over standards of care because they have been detained in custody.

Government data shows that detention rates under the Mental Health Act of people from African Caribbean communities is at an all time historic high.
People from this group are 44% more likely to be detained in psychiatric care against their will than their white counterparts, despite having similar rates of mental illness as any other ethnic group.

Experts say warn that this change in the law will hit Briton’s black communities hardest.

Black Mental Health UK, believe that any inquest by jury should not be left to the discretion of the coroner and are calling on MPs to support this view when the Coroners and Justice Bill go to the House of Commons on Monday.

‘The numbers of unexplained deaths of people detained under the Mental Health Act is currently at an eight year high, which is very disturbing.
It is in the public interest to know exactly how these people lost their lives and an automatic inquest by jury is the best way to ensure this. Many of the abuses and injustices within the system have only come to light through a public inquest and is often the only way in which bereaved families get to find out how their loved one has died,’ Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said.

‘Justice is a very important thing and an independent jury is an essential part of that process. It was through the jury inquest into David Bennett’s death that the real circumstances around that tragedy came to light.
People who use mental health services very rarely have a voice; the removal of an independent jury at inquests will make this worse. It will increase the distrust of the system, especially where young and healthy people have died while in custody under suspicious circumstances,’ mental health campaigner Rev Paul Grey of New Testament Church of God said.

We share the concerns of many families of people who have died in psychiatric detention and mental health organisations about this retrograde step. Many deaths in psychiatric detention which have demonstrated serious concerns and systemic failings regarding medication regimes have initially been categorised as being due to “natural causes,’ Helen Shaw co-director of Inquest said.

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