Memorandum submitted by Terrence Higgins Trust (H&SC 19)
HEALTH & SOCIAL CARE BILL - Sections 119 and 120
Evidence from the (THT) to the Public Bill Committee
7th January 2008
Summary: THT supports the suggested amendment from the National AIDS Trust which would require that any application from a Local Authority to a JP for an order of a health measure in relation to any persons and any related decisions should be reported centrally to ensure appropriate monitoring and accountability.
THT also recommends that such orders should be explicitly limited to conditions spread by casual contact from person to person.
1. THT is the UK's largest sexual health and HIV charity, with 25 years experience in prevention, treatment and care for sexually transmissible diseases, in particular HIV. We have contributed to development of public health policy in regard to communicable diseases throughout that time, based upon our practical experience.
2. THT previously responded to the Government's 2007 Review of Parts II,IV &V of the Public Health Act 1984, expressing concerns about the civil liberties implications of a number of the proposals as then worded. However, the Government response to this was published after the Health & Social Care Bill was presented to Parliament, making a timely rejoinder difficult.
3. In general, THT welcomes the current formulation of the proposals and agrees with the need to update the legislation. However, there are two issues where we continue to have concerns. These are the lack of any proposals for monitoring the use of JP powers and the lack of boundaries as to when coercive public health measures should be applied.
4. Sections 119 and 120 significantly extend JP powers to impose restrictions of movement, quarantine, require information, monitor individual health and impose training. While THT accepts that any of these may be appropriate in extreme situations as a last resort, they also contain considerable potential for inappropriate use against stigmatised conditions or communities due to misinformation or moral panic. We believe it will be important to monitor use of these powers to ensure appropriate useage within the limits of the Human Rights Act. THT therefore supports the National AIDS Trust recommendation that an amendment be made to the Bill to require that any application from a Local Authority to a JP for such an order of a health measure in relation to persons, and all decisions on such applications, be reported centrally to ensure appropriate monitoring and accountability.
5. Previously, a number of public health powers were restricted to a list of named conditions, whereas in these new proposals no such restrictions are made. While THT understands the Government's wish to legislate in a manner flexible enough to deal with emerging and future health threats, there is no reason why such powers should be extended to conditions such as HIV which are not casually contagious or spread through everyday means.
6. THT's experience in the UK and through observation of other countries is that there have been from time to time significant levels of inappropriate use of coercive public health and other laws with regard to HIV, due to the high levels of stigma and discrimination which the condition attracts. Put simply, if a law can be misapplied to HIV by omission, at some point it probably will be. We are therefore concerned to delineate those conditions to which this proposed legislation should or should not apply by recommending that the infections to which JP orders can apply be limited to those spread through casual contact.