Since I wrote this, Sec.141 was repealed by the Mental Health Discrimination Act 2013. Section 1 of the Mental Health Discrimination Act 2013, which repealed section 141 of the 1983 Act, came into force at the end of April 2013. I am leaving this post on the Blog as a matter of historical curiosity.
Members of Parliament are not the same as you or me when it comes to the Mental Health Act. MP’s have their very own Section of the MHA – Sec.141. This states that:
Where a member of the House of Commons is authorised to be detained … on the ground … that he is suffering from mental disorder, it shall be the duty of the court, authority or person on whose order or application, and of any registered medical practitioner upon whose recommendation or certificate, the detention was authorised, and of the person in charge of the hospital or other place in which the member is authorised to be detained, to notify the Speaker of the House of Commons that the detention has been authorised.
This roughly means that an AMHP who finds themselves in the position of having to detain an MP (or a Member of the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assembly or Scottish Parliament) under Sec.2, 3 or 4 has to notify the Speaker of the House of Commons of the action taken.
This then sets off a chain of events: the Speaker instructs two Psychiatrists to examine the MP and provide a report stating “whether the member is suffering from mental disorder and is authorised to be detained”. Once that has been established, if the MP is still detained under the MHA after 6 months (which includes sections of Part III of the Act relating to offenders, eg Sec.37), two Psychiatrists again have to examine him or her and furnish a further report. The Speaker shall then “forthwith lay both reports before the House of Commons, and thereupon the seat of the member shall become vacant.”
In other words, if an MP is unlucky enough to be sectioned for at least 6 months, he or she will automatically lose their seat.
You might think this discriminates against an MP who becomes mentally unwell. The Royal College of Psychiatrists would agree with you. In 2009 they pointed out that “there are no provisions to remove MPs suffering from physical illnesses which stop them from carrying out their duties and responsibilities for the same length of time. Furthermore, if the MP lacks capacity and is detained for a period of 6 months using the authority of the Mental Capacity Act, he or she will not automatically lose their seat.” The RCP recommended that the MHA be amended to remove all the parts of this section beyond the requirement to notify the Speaker. This has not yet happened.
However, before you lobby Parliament about this injustice, which may indeed contravene other legislation, including the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act 2010, this provision, which was first made law in the 1959 MHA, according to Parliament itself, has never been used.
In fact, there is only one known instance of an MP being removed from their seat on the basis of mental disorder – and that was in August 1916, when the Liberal MP Dr Charles Leach became a victim of the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 (which was eventually replaced by the provisions of the 1959 MHA) on the basis of “unsoundness of mind.”
David McKie wrote an article about this case in the Guardian (Bedlam on the benches, Guardian, 12.07.07.). Dr Leach, who had been a Nonconformist minister, first became an MP in 1910 at the age of 60. He apparently became mentally unwell in 1915, and by August 1916 he was removed from the House of Commons.
Although the precise nature of Dr Leach’s illness appears to be unknown, McKie states: “At the outset of the First World War he had volunteered, though approaching 70, to serve as a nonconformist chaplain at the front. It seems to have been this that brought on his breakdown.”