UN Criticizes UK’s Policy of Compulsory Treatment and Detention of People with Disabilities

On 28 March, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee (HRC) released a report criticizing the UK’s policy of “involuntary, compulsory treatment and detention” for people with disabilities. The HRC, a body made up of independent experts, monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by signatory states. In its report, it expressed concern that the UK Mental Health Act 1983 allows for people with disabilities to be detained.

Under the 1983 Act, people with learning disabilities and autism are held for an average of two years in hospitals and psychiatric care facilities. While prolonged involuntary detention alone may be a violation of the ICCPR, as noted by the UN expert on torture who stated that, “involuntary treatment and other psychiatric interventions in health-care facilities” can be forms of torture and ill-treatment”, many of these facilities have additionally been well documented by the media to be abusive. Over the last decade, the UK has faced significant pressure to rectify the situation. However, despite a commitment to reduce the number of those detained by 50% by March 2024 and move to an outpatient/community-based centred care system, there are still some 2,000 people involuntarily detained due to either learning disabilities or autism.

In its report, the HRC urged the UK not only to repeal the 1983 Act but also to strengthen efforts to create “sufficient community-based mental health services providing early intervention and preventative support”. This comes after years of UK-based organisations and charities calling for the end of the detention of disabled people in residential care facilities. The Alliance for Inclusive Education, an organisation that has been campaigning for years, refers to the current system as “torture” and calls for a complete replacement of the current residential system with community-based supports. Human Rights Watch has urged the UK to implement the HRC’s suggestions to allow people with disabilities “access to adequate support that allows them to live in their communities with dignity.”

Click here for the “Concluding observations on the eighth periodic report of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”



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