Monday, April 16, 2007

Second Reading of the Mental Health Bill

After this Bill (amending the Mental Health Act 1983, covering England and Wales - Scotland has its own Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2003), has been seriously mauled by the Lords the Government has announced it is going to valiantly seek to overturn the Lords' amendments.

In the second reading debate many Labour MP's expressed some sympathy for some of the Lords' positions so we shall see. The really interesting part will come in the ping pong that might follow by way of getting the same version of the Bill passed in both Houses.

I managed to watch the whole second reading. There were some interesting comments made by members but ulitmately many of the comments were a little superficial in nature.

I was moved though to hear many first hand accounts of people experiencing mental illness and remembered that in fact many MP's do have quite a lot of contact with service users and their families. The Government seemed very confident of their case and I think are going to reverse as many of the amendments as they possibly can and compromise only at the ping pong stage - if at all.

On many I think the Lords' amendments may be well intentioned but probably shouldn't be retained.

I do think that principles should be included in the Bill (bizarrely and for reasons I don't entirely grasp you can't put 'principles' in an amending Bill......). This is something I think the Government should think again on as I think it would satisfy a lot of people and give much needed reassurance.

Other areas I think the Government should think again are the choice of Nearest Relative and the provision of advocacy.

I definitley do not agree that the Government should accept the Lords' amendment on exclusions, which in my view is mischievous and misbegotten.

Yes it says you can't be detained solely because of your sexual orientation (as well as other things such as culture and religious beliefs etc).

Now we are going to get headlines saying 'Govt removed protection from homophobia'. This illustrates how mischevous the amendment is, in that it creates fear that it seeks to address - that it is possible detain people 'solely because of their sexual orientation'. This is clearly ridiculous (it's not possible to detain someone solely on the grounds of anything, actually - even a serious mental disorder), and therefore would be bad legislation and should be removed so there is a much simpler definition of mental disorder.

The other big issues are 'treatability' - where you have to demonstrate 'therapeutiv benefit' in order to detain someone and a restriction on the use of Community Treatment Orders. This is really the nub of the debate and it will be interesting to see how it proceeds.

It is of ocurse important to get it right and will be interesting to watch.

PS I should add that much of the media coverage is grossly distorted and really beside the point to the current debates.

One example is the BBC which has been asking:

Should the mentally ill be detained against their will?

MPs will be debating controversial plans in the Mental Health Bill that would allow the government to detain the mentally ill, even if they have not committed a crime.

All of this is of course grossly misleading as well as being unfortunate because it is designed to make many people who have a mental health problem fearful of mental health services in a way that is completely groundless.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lawyers Christian Fellowship on the regs

LCF has now published guidance advice on the sexual orientation regulations. On the whole it is much more balanced and dare I say truthful than we have come to expect.

There are still some exaggerations and deliberate scare (expressed as "there's a possiblity that") which you kind of expect, coming from LCF.

Also an actual lawyer has put his name to it, which is good.

Funny that they weren't able to release this before the vote - then it was all scare stories and exaggeration. Now the regs have been voted through they are eble to portray more honesty (they seem to be able to turn that on and off at will).

The link to the advice is here.

Of course, there are aspects to the regs that they don't like. That's to be expected. The LCF has been opposed to any measure of legal equality for LGBT people and of course that's their democratic right.

I do, though, have a few quibbles.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, and I could be wrong but I tend to disagree with the item dealing with the perennial 'Christian printer' being obliged to print books that they don't agree with. Actually the printing of books is more like publishing than printing.

In my untrained view, I think that a printer (or a publisher) can not be forced to print something he doesn't agree with (i.e. to promulgate ideational content he disagrees with), and so, in my view the question doesn't arise.

I personally think that in any case wouldn't be upheld by the Courts under the Human Rights Act.

There is of course the famous Canadian case but that wasn't about printing a book or a 'flyer promoting gay sex' it was about the printing of a letterhead and business cards for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (for a reference to this by now famous case see here, for a summary of the original ruling itself see here). And I do anticipate that a similar case would have a similar outcome in the UK under the sexual orientation regulations.

Apart from that and a few minor quibbles it's quite well researched and even includes the reference to the landmark ruling from the High Court on the Employment Equality regulations where they quite correctly state:

Is it a defence to argue “I am not treating this person differently (discriminating) because of their sexualorientation but because of their sexual practices”?

No. The Government have never accepted this distinction in law and neither (to date) have the courts.

The reference in the ruling itself can be seen here:

"29. Part of the background to the wording of regulation 7(3), and one of the matters that will need to be considered in examining the challenge to that provision, is a distinction drawn between sexual orientation and sexual behaviour. As regards the protection conferred by the Convention, however, I do not consider there to be any material difference between them. Sexual orientation and its manifestation in sexual behaviour are both inextricably connected with a person's private life and identity."

But this is a digression, though one that the Bishop of Hereford might have benefited from having had prior to the Employment Tribunal case.

I would also quibble with any suggestion that preaching and membership might potentially be covered under the regulations under a variety of scenarios. This is a failure to read in the provisions of the Human Rights Act and also the no doubt forthcoming Belfast High Court case on the Northern Ireland regulations which will no doubt say the same thing.

Any way, all of this apart, what they're putting out now is much more balanced than the scare stories they were putting forth before the regulations were passed by Parliament.

Bishops' madness

Well Easter is well and truly over isn't it?

Bizarre opinions being expressed by various Bishops expressing a favourable comparison between....... Iran (of all places) and our own society in the UK and presumably the terribly corrupt Western World.

Apparently Iran is a superior kind of country to ours. They have clearly defined religouse based values whereas we don't.

I think Al Qaida thinks exactly the same and that's why they would like to install a similar regime in the UK to the one which the bishops so clearly value in Iran.

Do they have any inclination of what kind of country Iran is? Do they really believe that their religious inspired dictatorship is superior to our democracy just because, having taken UK forces hostage, they then cite the Prophet when releasing them?

Whilst I don't want to use the phraseology of Axis of Evil, it's clearly not the most wonderful of places to live.

I can't help but wonder though whether the bishops views mean they regard Iran with a certain amount of envy. Nobody is allowed to question the dominant religion. Religious law runs the country and no need to lobby the Government over the Sexual Orientation regulations and suffer the humiliation of being rebuffed - you are the Government and if people disagree they tend to meet a sticky end. Is that secretly what they would like for us with our 'free floating' values?

I shudder to think.