Mental health lawyer backs MPs in bid to overhaul legislation that is failing young people with autism and learning difficulties

A Wrexham solicitor who originally qualified onto the Law Society Mental Health Accreditation Scheme to provide a voice for the increasing number of people with mental health problems who find themselves in the criminal justice system has backed a call to overhaul mental health legislation to protect young people with autism or learning disabilities.

Elzbeth Kenny, a lawyer with GHP Legal, which has one of the largest mental health teams covering North Wales and Shropshire, agreed with MPs who want to stop the “horrific” and inappropriate detention of young people with autism or learning disabilities.

“Human rights are universal in their character”, Ms Kenny said today, “and therefore people with both mental and physical disabilities have the same rights as the rest of the human race and should not be deprived of their liberty unless absolutely necessary.”

The call for changes to the law came after a Parliamentary joint committee on human rights launched an enquiry at the beginning of the year that has subsequently found the Care Quality Commission (CQC) repeatedly failed to detect potential human rights abuses at a number of hospitals and mental health institutions. 

“A Supreme Court judgment in 2014 provided much needed guidance to help professionals determine when restrictions placed on an individual who lacks capacity to make decisions on their residence and care amount to a deprivation of liberty”, said Ms Kenny. “Yet the human rights of many young people are still being breached and they and their families are still suffering as a result.

“The entire system for helping and dealing with young people who have autism and learning difficulties needs to be overhauled. Firstly there needs to be more support for families looking after these young people at home. In some cases helping families to cope better could even prevent the need for the young people to be taken away and put into care, where they often feel completely isolated.

“Cases have been reported where parents have been excluded from decisions about their child’s treatment and also where they detained. Families have difficulty travelling the long distances to ensuing distant locations. Sometimes they are even denied access to visiting on the advice of medics and managers. All of this impacts on the young people being detained. In many cases it causes their condition to worsen rather than produce the improvement the system was supposedly designed to achieve.

“I am in full agreement with the committee of MPs that there needs to be greater political focus and accountability, to ensure people with a learning disability and autistic people have the best quality of life.

“It is also vital that young people detained against their wishes, and their family supporters, have quality specialist legal advice to help enforce their rights. GHP Legal has a long record of standing up for the rights of those detained in the mental health system and we know that the correct legal advice can effect a greatly improved outcome when challenging the system and the decisions of its managers.”

Elzbeth Kenny

Elzbeth Kenny

Senior Solicitor

Part of our Criminal and Mental Health teams in Wrexham.