Mental health legislation and human rights in England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland

Brendan D Kelly
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 2011, 34 (6): 439-54
In 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) published its Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation (Geneva: WHO) presenting a detailed statement of human rights issues which need to be addressed in national legislation relating to mental health. The purpose of this paper is to determine the extent to which revised mental health legislation in England, Wales (2007) and Ireland (2001) accords with these standards (excluding standards relating solely to children or mentally-ill offenders). Legislation in England and Wales meets 90 (54.2%) of the 166 WHO standards examined, while legislation in Ireland meets 80 standards (48.2%). Areas of high compliance include definitions of mental disorder, relatively robust procedures for involuntary admission and treatment (although provision of information remains suboptimal) and clarity regarding offences and penalties Areas of medium compliance relate to competence, capacity and consent (with a particular deficit in capacity legislation in Ireland), oversight and review (which exclude long-term voluntary patients and require more robust complaints procedures), and rules governing special treatments, seclusion and restraint. Areas of low compliance relate to promoting rights (impacting on other areas within legislation, such as information management), voluntary patients (especially non-protesting, incapacitated patients), protection of vulnerable groups and emergency treatment. The greatest single deficit in both jurisdictions relates to economic and social rights. There are four key areas in need of rectification and clarification in relation to mental health legislation in England, Wales and Ireland; these relate to (1) measures to protect and promote the rights of voluntary patients; (2) issues relating to competence, capacity and consent (especially in Ireland); (3) the role of "common law" in relation to mental health law (especially in England and Wales); and (4) the extent to which each jurisdiction wishes to protect the economic and social rights of the mentally ill through mental health legislation rather than general legislation. It is hoped that this preliminary analysis of mental health legislation will prompt deeper national audits of mental health and general law as it relates to the mentally ill, performed by multi-disciplinary committees, as recommended by the WHO.

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