The Mental Health Act 1983 is one of the key pieces of health law in the UK. It covers a lot of matters relating to the care and treatment of people with mental health problems and how their property should be handled, but it is perhaps most well-known for providing the legislation that enables hospitals or the police to section people without their consent. The later Mental Health Act 2007 amended this legislation, including the criteria needed for the involuntary commitment of people.
Most people in psychiatric hospitals are there voluntarily, but approximately one-quarter of them have been sectioned. While those who are there voluntarily are free to leave at any time, those who are not will not be able to do so as a result of this mental health law.
When sectioning someone under section 2 of the Act, two doctors must confirm that the patient is suffering from some kind of mental disorder that warrants assessment in hospital, and that the patient should be detained in the interest of their wellbeing or the wellbeing of others.
When sectioning someone under section 3 of the Act, two doctors must agree that the patient is suffering from some kind of mental disorder that should be treated in hospital, that there is treatment available, and that the patient should be detained in the interests of their wellbeing or the wellbeing of others.
Either approved mental health professionals (AHMPs), or the nearest relative of the individual, have the right to apply for them to be detained under the Mental Health Act. AHMPs must speak with the person’s nearest relative if they are to apply for the person to be sectioned. If a person is being detained under section 3 of the health law, the nearest relative must agree with the decision, and if they disagree, the AMHP must appeal to the County Court. If the sectioning is under section 2, the nearest relative is unable to stop the sectioning from proceeding. Nonetheless, if speaking to the nearest relative is not reasonably practicable, the section application can go ahead.
Following the Sectioning
People who have been detained under the Mental Health Act are strongly advised to speak with solicitors who are well-versed in mental health law so a legal expert can make certain that the sectioning is legal and that the hospital is following the procedures it should. This is especially the case if the nearest relative has not been consulted, as you might need to be knowledgeable in health law to understand whether or not the section papers and procedures have been followed lawfully.
When people want to be discharged, they may need to make an application with the Mental Health Tribunal. This should be done within the first fortnight of the sectioning if it was under section 2, within 6 months from the renewal of the first section 3 detention and every 12 months of any following detention. Applicants have the right to legal aid at this point, so they can pay for a solicitor who understands mental health law no matter what their circumstances are.
Hellen Geek works alongside a team of personal injury solicitors to advise and assist them in matters relating to health law. She comes from a family of mental health professionals and the subject of mental healthcare is very close to her heart.