The Supreme Court has today given important guidance on the detention of people with serious mental health problems.

The Home Office argued that detainees’ health would be ‘satisfactorily managed’ if their condition did not deteriorate, even if treatment was available outside of detention which would allow them to recover from their illness.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument, finding that, if a detainee’s health could improve with treatment which would be available in the community, but which was not available in detention, then that should be considered. It is the Home Office’s responsibility to make inquiries about community-based treatment which could make a difference to the detainee’s condition.

Theresa Schleicher, Acting Director of Medical Justice, said: “We intervened in this case because we frequently see people with serious mental health problems in detention, who are detained on the basis that their illness can be satisfactorily managed in detention even though the treatment and support they need is not available. Even when their condition deteriorates, it often takes a long time before this is recognised, causing lasting damage to their health. It cannot be right for seriously ill detainees to be allowed to suffer in detention – when treatment would be available outside of detention which would help them recover”.
Alison Fiddy, Head of Legal at Mind, a mental health charity that supported the intervention said: “We strongly believe that a mental health problem is not satisfactorily managed if it is not being improved, but could be. We consider that where something can be done to prevent deterioration, promote recovery and alleviate suffering, it should be done. Otherwise treatment falls far below basic standards of mental health care.”

The judgment also reversed earlier rulings that certain groups of immigration detainees can be lawfully detained even in breach of Home Office policy.

We are grateful to Sue Willman at Deighton Pierce Glynn, Laura Dubinsky, Jason Popjoy and Michael Fordham QC who represented us, and to BID, who intervened jointly with us and to their legal team at Allen & Ovary.

Read the judgment here.

See BID’s summary of the judgment here.