The government has now published the Coronavirus Bill https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0122/cbill_2019-20210122_en_1.htm with some significant changes for Local Authorities and NHS staff working in these fields.

These changes are mooted to be in place for up to two years (with the ability to extend this further at Clause 76) and can/will be implemented by the Local Authority or Health Board if they feel that the situation warrants it, for example if staff numbers are sufficiently reduced. It is likely that the Bill will pass through all stages of Parliament (Houses of Commons and Lords) by Thursday or Friday of next week and possibly earlier.

The Bill is very lengthy and will take quite a while to read and subsequently digest, however, I would urge you all to do this and consider the implications for your particular fields of interest. The Schedules to the Bill contain most of the detail. It is important that we do this given the impact/interference the Bill could have on the Human Rights of the people we serve, i.e. the most vulnerable members of society.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) have opened an inquiry into the Governments response to COVID-19 and has issued a call for submissions and evidence https://committees.parliament.uk/work/218/the-governments-response-to-covid19-human-rights-implications/

The JCHR intention is examine Govt. action to ensure it is compliant with human rights, with a particular focus on the right to life (Article 2, European Convention on Human Rights). In addition and of especial interest perhaps to us, is whether any resultant interference with the right to liberty (Article 5) and the right to respect for family life (Article 8) by Govt. action and the Coronavirus Bill is proportionate, as the  Convention demands.

You may wish to make a submission to the JCHR in your own right and I would encourage you to do so. However, BASW Cymru will also make a submission on behalf of its members and also the Wales Law PPEG. If you would like your thoughts or views to be included with the BASW C submission, I will ensure that these are included in our response. Evidence to the Committee can be submitted up to Wednesday 22 July, although if you wish BASW Cymru to include your submissions, please provide them to me by Wednesday 15 July.

Points of interest in the Bill for me include:

  • Effective suspension of the ‘duties’ in the Social Services Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 and the Care Act 2014 (Schedule 11 of the Bill) with replacement by ‘powers’ or a ‘duty’ to meet needs where, in England, human rights would be breached. However, as numerous actions in the Courts show, it is extremely difficult to that a failure to provide care and support has resulted in a breach of human rights and the very few successful cases tend to be where such a failure has resulted in in inhuman and degrading treatment, contrary to Article 3 (ECHR) – a very high bar.
  • In Wales, it seems we are more fortunate as a duty only arises where a failure to provide care and support would mean that the person may be experiencing or at risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Modifications of the Mental Health Act (Schedule 7)
    • A reduction in the number of doctors (from 2 to 1) required to agree that an individual should be detained
    • Increases to time limits for emergency detention of people in hospital as voluntary patients – Drs holding powers s5(2) increase from 72 hours to 120; Nurses holding powers s5(4) increase from 6 hours to 12
    • Removal of the requirement to have a Second Opinion Approved Doctor (SOAD) for some sections of the MHA where a patients doctor wishes to continue treatment against the patients will beyond the initial 3 months of detention.  The SOAD service exists to safeguard the rights of patients detained under the Mental Health Act who either refuse the treatment prescribed to them or are deemed incapable of consenting.
    • Changes to Police holding powers. The time limit for detention under s136 in a place of safety increases from an initial 24 hours, with a maximum extension of 12 hours, to an initial 36 hours, with same maximum extension of another 12 hours.
  • Powers relating to potentially infected persons – Schedule 20 provides for extensive powers to be used by a ‘public health officer’ to direct a person to go for screening or assessment and, if they feel it necessary, to remove that person to such a place or request the Police to do so.
  • Education – Schedule 16 provides the Secretary of State/Welsh Ministers with the power to downgrade Local Education Authority duties, including those around provision for Special Educational Needs, changing these to an obligation to ‘use reasonable endeavours to discharge’ the duty.

In addition, a number of guidance documents have been published by both the govt. and Ministry of Justice.

  • Responding to Covid-19: the ethical framework for adult social care https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-ethical-framework-for-adult-social-care/responding-to-covid-19-the-ethical-framework-for-adult-social-care This guidance recognises that increasing pressures and expected demand, it might become necessary to make challenging decisions on how to redirect resources where they are most needed and to prioritise individual care needs. This framework intends to serve as a guide for these types of decisions and reinforce that consideration of any potential harm that might be suffered, and the needs of all individuals, are always central to decision-making.
    • The guidance is of real importance, especially in light of the revised approach of the Coronavirus Bill to the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Care Act (2014) noted above.

 

 

Alex Ruck Keene notes in his Mental Capacity Law & Policy website https://www.mentalcapacitylawandpolicy.org.uk/: We await further guidance from DHSC in relation to MCA and DoLS, but is perhaps striking that (as it stands) the Coronavirus Bill provides for changes to the MHA in terms (for instance) of enabling detention on the basis of one rather than two medical recommendations, but made no mention of the MCA in terms of alleviating statutory responsibilities in relation to the discharge of obligations under DoLS.  At least at present, therefore, what the guidance can do in terms of responding to issues being raised on the ground as to the practical operation of the DoLS would appear to be limited.

 

Luke Clements (Cerebra Professor of Law at Leeds University) has a brief note on the Bill on his website: http://www.lukeclements.co.uk/the-coronavirus-bill-social-care-sen-2/

 

Lucy Series has some excellent blog pieces on her website: ‘Coronavirus and the MCA’ https://thesmallplaces.wordpress.com/2020/03/10/coronavirus-and-the-mental-capacity-act-2005/

and ‘Tomorrow’s World – human rights, care practices and Covid-19image

 

Once again, please also find time to respond to the JCHR enquiry; the Bill is the most draconian piece of legislation enacted since the Second World War and it deserves scrutiny, not least for the very vulnerable and disabled individuals upon whom it will have the greatest impact. Clearly, there is massive concern around the Coronavirus and a need to support services. However, I am uneasy with the implications of the Bill given that it appears to remove some of the safeguards in place for vulnerable persons and places a greater burden upon them than others.

 

Nonetheless, that is my personal opinion based on a quick reading of the Bill and I would really welcome your views, so that we may inform the JCHR, collectively or individually. My views are informed by my background in Mental Health & Mental Capacity, so contributions from those in other fields, especially CYP would be really welcome.

 

Lots to ponder and lots of work ahead for all practitioners. Please let me know how BASW Cymru can support you in all that you do – if we don’t have immediate answers, we will endeavour to find them.

Best wishes

Phillip Mitchell

Swyddog proffesiynol/Professional Officer

Gweithiwr cymdeithasol cofrestredig/Registered Social Worker