Review into ‘remand for own protection’ must abolish this power

I have welcomed a commitment by the Justice Secretary to conduct a review into powers which allow the courts to remand an adult into prison for their own protection without them having been convicted or sentenced, but has called on Ministers to abolish this power.

As the co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, I tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to abolish remand for own protection.  Whilst the amendment was not passed, the Justice Secretary stated that a review of remand for own protection will report by the end of the year.

This power is outdated and out of step with other legal frameworks that recognise the need to support vulnerable individuals and to treat them with dignity. Using the most punitive function of the criminal justice system – imprisonment – to deliver a therapeutic intervention or achieve a protective outcome is simply wrong.

It is reprehensible to deprive a vulnerable adult or child of their liberty because of shortcomings in social security support or mental health or other local services. The potential for abuse in the use of such arcane and outdated legislation is clear to see.

The continued existence of this remand provision places the courts in an impossible position – frustrating the spirit of the reforms introduced in the Mental Health Act 1983, which restricts the use of police cells as places of safety. It punishes those who are unwell.

Despite assurances from the minister that the power is used as a last resort and in limited circumstances only when strictly necessary, we do not have the data to show that this is the case. It is concerning that the government does not collect data on how often the power of the criminal courts to remand people to prison for their own protection is used. Scrutiny of this extraordinary power is virtually non-existent.

I welcome the fact that the Government has committed to a review of the use of remand for own protection. However, this review appears to focus on the current use of this power and what alternative accommodation might be available, not on removing the powers of the courts to imprison someone on the grounds of protection or welfare. This power is wrong in principle and should be abolished.

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