Thursday, February 8, 2007

Human rights commitee 'concerned' over mental health bill

Government efforts to overhaul mental health legislation have been challenged by Parliament's human rights watchdog.

Dr Evan Harris MP"The law may be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights"

A report by the joint committee on human rights warned people who do not have a mental illness could be sectioned despite posing no risk to others or themselves. MPs and peers argued the mental health bill, which has already had one defeat in the House of Lords, is flawed because the government’s proposed legal definition of illness is too wide.It warned people with conditions such as gender dysphoria - uncertainty about their gender – or transsexuals could be detained under the act."The bill proposes to change the grounds for a person's detention from 'a true mental disorder' to 'any disorder or disability of mind'. We are concerned that this could result in discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and sexual identity," said Andrew Dismore MP, the committee chairman.The report also raised concern that a duty nurse or social worker could be enough to extend someone's detention.The prospect of legal battles over the legislation and the human rights act was raised by Dr Evan Harris, the Lib Dem MP and GP who also sits on the committee.He said: "The law may be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which allows people the right to a private life and to enjoy it without discrimination."Although the report is unlikely to impact directly on the mental health bill it will add a further obstacle for the government to overcome and increase concern among peers and backbench MPs. The legislation has already attracted 70 amendments in the House of Lords.Health minister Rosie Winterton, who is the lead minister for the bill, is set to meet the human rights committee to discuss the report.

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