Achieving changes, big and small

4th August 2017

Blog by Carolyn Lochhead, Public Affairs Manager.

The Scottish Parliament is in recess until mid-September, so it’s a good time to reflect on our political campaigning during the last parliamentary session. 

SAMH spends a lot of time scrutinising draft laws to check what effect they’ll have on people with mental health problems, seeking to persuade MSPs to change laws when necessary. We don’t always succeed, but we never give up until every opportunity has been exhausted. 

A good example occurred recently. In 2015, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, which sets out when people with mental health problems can be treated against their will, was updated. We campaigned hard at the time on changes we were worried about, like giving people much less time to appeal against being transferred to the State Hospital. And we did well, achieving three of the five changes we wanted to see.

But the process of implementing legislation takes a long time, and parts of the 2015 Act are still being processed. Last month saw some of these changes sent to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee for approval. We’d had the chance to discuss these changes with Scottish Government and most of them were uncontroversial. One, however, meant that people who absconded to Scotland while detained under mental health legislation in another country could have been held here indefinitely without any right to appeal or have a Mental Health Officer involved in their case.

We were worried, and we wrote to members of the Committee explaining our concerns. To our delight, they listened, and voted against the change. It was the first time in six years that a Committee had voted against this type of parliamentary motion. 

It doesn’t end here: the Government isn’t obliged to change its mind. Parliament can still be asked to approve this piece of law, even though the Committee voted against it. But we will do whatever we can to persuade MSPs that this law isn’t fair. It may not affect many people, but we believe that rights are rights, and should be defended. 

Read our guide and watch our video about changes to the Mental Health Act.