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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Mental Health Act changes

Important changes to section 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act, made by the Policing and Crime Act 2017, come into force on 11 December 2017. 

The changes to the police powers and places of safety provisions have already be set out. Briefly they are as follows:

  • Section 136 powers may be exercised anywhere other than in a private dwelling;

  • It’s unlawful to use a police station as a place of safety for anyone under the age of 18 in any circumstances;

  • A police station can only be used as a place of safety for adults in specific circumstances, which are set out in regulations;

  • The previous maximum detention period of up to 72 hours will be reduced to 24 hours (unless a doctor certifies that an extension of up to 12 hours is necessary);

  • Before exercising a section 136 power police officers must, where practicable, consult a health professional;

  • Where a section 135 warrant has been executed, a person may be kept at their home for the purposes of an assessment rather than being removed to another place of safety (in line with what is already possible under section 136);

  • A new search power will allow police officers to search persons subject to section 135 or 136 powers for protective purposes.

The Department of Health and Home Office have published guidance to support the implementation of changes. 

The guidance isn’t statutory, and should be used in conjunction with other relevant guidance, standards and Codes of Practice but noting that the current MHA Code of Practice will certainly be updated at some point to incorporate guidance in relation to the places of safety provisions.

The guidance addresses how the legislative changes may apply over the time course of a typical ‘engagement’ and also makes suggestions regarding additional steps that may be considered when implementing changes in a locality. 

These include reviewing existing training courses; impact monitoring and revision of local policies and liaison with relevant partners.

It’s important that clinicians are aware of the changes and the time limits that will apply.

Agencies need to be very clear about how the provisions apply and anticipate the challenges that will happen in their area.


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