Human Rights and the Government’s response to COVID-19: The detention of young people who are autistic and/or have learning disabilities Contents


1.In November 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, published a report on the detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) and other mental health hospitals [hereafter referred to as the “2019 report”].12 This concluded that in many cases these young people’s human rights are being abused; they are detained unlawfully, contrary to their right to liberty, subjected to solitary confinement, more prone to self-harm and abuse and deprived of the right to family life. The report called for an overhaul of inspections and changes to the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) to protect those detained from breaches of their human rights. It also recommended a Number 10 unit with Cabinet level leadership to urgently drive forward reform. The Government’s response to the report was expected in February but has been delayed due to the pandemic.

2.On 19 March 2020 we announced an inquiry into the implications for human rights of the Government’s Covid-19 response. As part of this inquiry we took evidence on 18 May from parents of young people who are autistic or have a learning disability and are currently detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. These were Adele Green, whose 20-year-old son Eddie has a learning disability and has been detained for seven years, since he was 13, and Andrea Attree whose 23-year-old daughter Dannielle is autistic and has been detained on and off for over 10 years. Their evidence was powerful and compelling. We are very grateful to them for putting the reality of what is currently happening to young people in detention on the record. We also heard evidence from Dr Kevin Cleary, Deputy Chief Inspector for Hospitals, Care Quality Commission; Kate Terroni, Chief Inspector for Adult Social, Care Quality Commission; Ray James, National Director Learning Disability, NHS England and NHS Improvement; and Claire Murdoch, National Director Mental Health, NHS England and NHS Improvement, for which we were also grateful. The aim of the session was to examine the impact that the coronavirus crisis has had on the human rights of these young people. This report makes a series of recommendations based on the evidence we heard.

3.This inquiry has focused on the situation in England as health and social care matters are devolved to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

4.We are grateful for the assistance of a specialist advisor Alex Ruck-Keene, Barrister at 39 Essex Chambers, in this inquiry.3

1 Joint Committee on Human Rights, Second Report of Session 2019, The detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism, HC 121 / HL Paper 10

3 Declaration of Interests: Member of the Law Society’s Mental Health and Disability Committee; and Court of Protection Rules Committee and the ‘HIVE’ group.

Published: 12 June 2020