Seni’s Law: How Tragedy Hopes To Inspire Change In How Force Is Used In Mental Health Units

Maurice Richmond
By Maurice Richmond,
updated on Jun 21, 2018

Seni’s Law: How Tragedy Hopes To Inspire Change In How Force Is Used In Mental Health Units

The tragic death of young Londoner Olaseni Lewis sent ripples throughout the country. His family hope his legacy will live on through #SenisLaw

MPs in Westminster are currently debating The Use Of Force Bill, nicknamed Seni’s Law in honour of Olaseni Lewis. Seni died nearly eight years ago aged just 23.

The circumstances of the mental health patient's death are at the heart of the Bill, he died after being forcibly restrained by 11 police officers in Bethlem Royal Hospital, in Beckenham, south east London.

Six police officers involved were cleared of gross misconduct over the incident, despite an earlier inquest jury previously finding 'multiple failings' by the officers had contributed to Seni's death.

It is hoped the bill will better protect patients, staff and officers in mental health institutions across the country.

Seni's Law
Seni’s death prompted a campaign aimed at changing how force was used in mental health units.

Help came from Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North, who sought to take the momentum gained to parliament, and promptly tabled the Bill in November last year.

Above all, it seeks to bring "greater transparency and accountability to stop the disproportionate use of force" in units.

Among the Bill's changes in safeguarding and policy, one new measure would require police to wear body cameras while carrying out restraint in mental health units, unless there are legitimate operational reasons preventing video recording.

It also stipulates that non-natural deaths would immediately trigger an investigation.

The Politics
Until now, the Bill has progressed unhindered on its way to potentially becoming laid out in law.

It has negotiated two reading stages and a committee stage on its way to being made into law. Last Friday saw it reach the report stage in the Commons.

Enter Tory MP Philip Davies, who used a strange parliamentary quirk to eat up time available for the Bill to be heard. He spoke for 148 minutes and tabled more than 100 amendments aimed at challenging the Bill, despite the Government describing them as ‘unnecessary’.

Mr Davies insisted his actions were not meant to block reform, but that he was aiming to improve it.

He said: "We are in danger of passing a piece of legislation that everybody in this House knows is not as good as it should be and not as good as it could be, largely because of the paralysis of decision making within the government.”

It prompted the Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb to express fears ‘Seni’s Law’ could be lost.

He said: "I have a very real concern - and I don't think it's his intention, but I hope it isn't - that we could end up this being talked out today, and the risk then that this bill is lost."

What next?
Thankfully, Seni's Law is still very much on track to becoming passed, and has now progressed beyond the report stage.

Steve Reed insists the third reading, the Bill’s next stage before it goes on to the House of Lords for debate, will take place on July 6. The MP was pictured with Seni's parents Aji and Conrad Lewis, who witnessed it all from the public gallery.

Ensuring Seni's legacy does indeed live on will take time and more than likely, significant political debate. However, many will hope that it doesn't hinder progression on what could potentially be a crucial piece of legislation.

To talk to somebody confidentially about your mental health, you can find an accredited counsellor in your area by visiting Counselling Directory.

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