From education to employment

Human rights in learning disability inpatient units

The Joint Committee on Human Rights will hear from people with learning disabilities who have been detained, and from family members of people with autism who have been detained.

Wed 12 Dec, 15.45, CR 2.

Watch live and on demand here

The purpose of the session is to hear about:

  • The experiences of those with learning disabilities and/or autism of inpatient settings, and the views of families;
  • Their views on restraint and/or isolation in these settings;
  • How they think the human rights of those with learning disabilities and/or autism can be better protected.

Panel 1:

Paul Scarrott and Pam Bebbington, My Life My Choice (15.45)

Pam Bebbington and Paul Scarrott both work with the charity My Life, My Choices, as a self advocacy organisation that seeks to “raise the self-esteem, confidence and quality of life for people with learning disabilities by providing training, employment, volunteering and social opportunities for our members.”

Panel 2 (16.15)

Julie Newcombe and Jeremy, parents of young people with autism

Julie Newcombe is a parent campaigner who co-founded the Rightful Lives exhibition to promote the human rights of people with learning disabilities and/or autism. Her 23 year old son spent 19 months in several inpatient settings.

Jeremy is the father of Bethany, who is kept in isolation and whose treatment has been extensively covered by the media.

Committee Chair Harriet Harman said:

“We are shining a spotlight on the human rights of individuals who are being shut away and made invisible. Regulation is not enough. The only way to stop abuses is to guarantee the full rights of these children, adults and their families. We have seen welcome changes towards children on issues such as corporal punishment and learning how to listen to their concerns. Now we need a similar fundamental reassessment of how we are treating people with autism and learning disabilities.”


Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) are specialist learning disability units which are often within larger mental health hospitals. They are designed to be short-term secure placements for people with learning disabilities to receive treatment before moving back into the community. However, people can live in them for years.

People with learning disabilities and/or autism are also detained in non-specialist mental health hospitals.

In its statistics the Government uses the broad term inpatient care commissioned by the NHS in England.

We have referred to learning disability inpatient units as this covers ATUs and also hospital settings that are not called ATUs but which fulfil similar functions.

The law

The legal situation of those in these settings in often complex. Some are detained under the Mental Health Act, but some with learning disabilities may not be if they do not meet the criteria for Mental Health Act detention.  In these circumstances and if they are deemed to lack capacity to consent to the arrangements, they will be subject to the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, under the Mental Capacity Act.

Watch the evidence session live and on demand here


Membership of the Committee: 

Ms Harriet Harman MP (Chair) (Labour)  

Fiona Bruce MP (Conservative) 

Ms Karen Buck MP (Labour) 

Joanna Cherry MP (SNP) 

Jeremy Lefroy MP (Conservative) 

Baroness Hamwee (Liberal Democrat) 

Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon (Labour) 

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Conservative)

Baroness Prosser (Labour) 

Lord Trimble (Conservative) 

Lord Woolf (Crossbench) 

Related Articles