2 November 2017

Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill
Second Reading: House of Commons
Sitting from 09:30, 3 November 2017

UPDATE 4 November 2017: Seni's Law passed through it's second reading following this press release. More information on our newsletter here

Tomorrow (3 November) ‘Seni’s Law’, formally titled the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, will go through its second reading in the House of Commons. The Private Members Bill brought by Steve Reed MP is named after Olaseni ‘Seni’ Lewis, a 23 year old IT graduate who died as a result of prolonged restraint by police officers whilst a voluntary inpatient at Bethlem Royal Hospital, Croydon in 2010.

If enacted changes the Bill would make include:

  • Increased oversight and management of use of force in mental health units;
  • Improved regulation to reduce levels of force used;
  • Improved arrangements between police and mental health units, including requiring police to wear body cameras when attending these units;
  • A requirement that an independent investigation follows deaths (rather than internal investigations by health trusts), as is already the case in prisons and police custody; something INQUEST has called for since 2015.

Earlier this year an inquest jury unanimously condemned the actions of police and healthcare staff who watched on as Seni was restrained by 11 police officers. The inquest found the force used was excessive, disproportionate, and contributed to Seni’s death. His family have welcomed the Bill as an opportunity to prevent further deaths.

Ajibola Lewis, Seni’s mother said: “I want Seni here with me but they took him away. The police dangerously restrained him to death with mental health hospital staff watching on. This Bill is important to us as we don’t want any other family to suffer as we have.”

INQUEST has worked on numerous disturbing cases of deaths following restraint in mental health settings, and involving the police. Currently there is no robust monitoring of incidents of force in mental health units, despite evidence which suggests there is disproportionate use against black and minority ethnic communities, women and children, young people, and people with learning disabilities.

The death of David ‘Rocky’ Bennett following restraint in a mental health unit in 1998 resulted in a public inquiry, a finding of institutional racism in the NHS, and calls for accredited training for staff in restraint and escalation. Sadly, nineteen years on too little has changed. Last year an inquest into the death of 14-year-old Amy El-Keira documented the excessive use of restraint leading up to her self-inflicted death. The enactment of this Bill would mark a belated step forward.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said:
“This Bill as an important attempt to increase visibility and protections around the use of force against some of the most vulnerable people in our society. At its core, the aim is to ensure that people in mental health units can feel safe, and are treated with dignity and humanity, ensuring any use of restraint is kept to an absolute minimum. This is something we hope all parties can agree on.

Seni’s law would also ensure that when the absolute worst happens and a patient dies, there is a robust and independent system for investigating deaths. It is hard to believe that investigations into deaths of those in mental health units are significantly less rigorous than those in other forms of detention. Access to justice for families bereaved by state related deaths, and open, independent investigations are essential to enable proper accountability and learning.”



For further information, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]

  • INQUEST has been working with the family of Olaseni Lewis since his death in September 2010. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Raju Bhatt and Sophie Naftalin of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.
  • For more information on the Bill go to: senis-law.com or Steve Reed MP’s website.
  • A full draft of the bill and details of its passage through parliament can be seen on the parliament website here.
  • INQUEST’s report Deaths in mental health detention: An investigation framework fit for purpose? (February 2015) identified the need for independent investigation of deaths in mental health units, and examined disparities in levels of accountability following deaths between mental health settings, prisons and police custody. You can download the full report here.
  • This briefing on Seni’s Law by Rethink Mental Illness and Agenda notes evidence of disproportionate use of certain types of restraint against women and girls, and the disproportionate detention of BME people.
  • YoungMinds and the National Autistic Society are calling for MPs to back the Bill here.
  • This week (October 30) a letter in The Times, signed by INQUEST and charities including YoungMinds and Mind urged MPs to support the bill, as discussed here.