Police and removing someone to a 'place of safety'
There are occasions when the police may act if they think that someone is in need of immediate care and/or control. They have the power to remove someone to a 'place of safety' for their own protection, or the protection of others.
Removing someone to a place of safety
A code of practice was introduced to guide doctors, social services and other professionals in the application of the Mental Health (NI) Order 1986.
This is to ensure the fair, sympathetic and effective treatment of people with mental health problems. It covers all aspects of the legislation and provides advice for police officers and how to deal with mental health issues.
Part of the Mental Health (NI) Order relates to removing a mentally ill person from a public place to a place of safety. It details police powers and the rights of someone in this position.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) operational procedure and guidance recommends that each police area should agree a policy with health and social services locally for putting the Order into practice. For example, police officers should know who to contact at both the local hospital and social services department.
Place of safety
A place of safety could be a hospital or a police station. Taking someone to a place of safety will allow that person to be assessed by a doctor and interviewed by an 'approved social worker'.
The maximum time someone can be detained is 48 hours (two days). By then, any necessary arrangements for the person's treatment and care should have been made.
Rights of the person detained
If the police remove someone under the Mental Health Order to a police station, the person being removed is entitled to:
- have another person, of their choice, informed of their whereabouts
- access to legal advice
- the support of an appropriate adult
- medical treatment from an appropriate healthcare professional if required
An 'appropriate adult' should not be employed by the police and should be experienced in dealing with people with mental health problems. It could be a relative of the person or someone responsible for their care.