Britain's government announced plans on Wednesday to beef up its powers to lock up mentally ill patients without charge if they are deemed a danger to the public.
The shake-up of mental health policy follows a spate of cases in which people known to be suffering from personality disorders have attacked or killed complete strangers.
Former Beatle Geroge Harrison became the highest-profile victim of such an attack in December 1999, when an intruder broke into his mansion and stabbed him and his wife, Olivia.
The man was later found to be mentally ill and a judge ordered that he be locked up in a secure hospital.
Under current law, authorities can only detain a mentally ill person against their will if they have committed a crime or if their illness is deemed to be treatable.
That means that many people with untreatable personality disorders which make them a potential danger to others are allowed to walk the streets.
Under the changes proposed on Wednesday by health minister Alan Milburn, anyone who is thought to be dangerous can be locked up indefinitely, provided a panel of experts agrees they pose a threat to the public.
Mental health officials will also be given powers to force patients to take their medication. If they fail to comply, the new proposals would mean they could be forcibly admitted to hospital.
Milburn described the proposed changes, which will be submitted to parliament for consideration, as the "biggest shake-up in mental health laws in decades."
He added that the law as it stands "has failed to properly protect the public, patients and staff."
Mental health campaigner Jane Zito welcomed the government's initiative.
She had been married to her husband, Jon, for three months when he was stabbed to death in December 1992 by a man who was being treated for a personality disorder.
"The reforms will enable patients who deteriorate when they don't take their treatment to be treated in the community and to sustain a level of mental health so they don't have to be recalled to hospital," Zito told Sky News.
"It is important that the public recognize that there is a small minority of patients within our mental health system who do not comply with their treatment orders," she added -- LONDON (AFP)
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