What is the Bazelon Centre for Mental Health Law?

Introduction

The Bazelon Centre for Mental Health Law is a national legal-advocacy organisation representing people with mental disabilities in the US (Washington, D.C.).

Originally known as The Mental Health Law Project, the Centre was founded as a national public-interest organization in 1972 by a group of specialised attorneys and mental disability professionals who were working to help the court define a constitutional right to treatment in terms of specific standards for services and protections.

In 1993, the organisation changed its name to the Judge David L. Bazelon Centre for Mental Health Law to honour the legacy of Judge David L. Bazelon, whose decisions as Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had pioneered the field of mental health law.

Refer to the Treatment Advocacy Centre.

Litigation

The Centre’s precedent-setting litigation has established important civil rights for people with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. These include the right to treatment in Wyatt v. Stickney (decided in 1971 and successfully concluded in 1999), and the Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring decision affirming the right of people with disabilities to receive public services in the most integrated setting consistent with their needs.

Federal Policy

The Centre also engages in federal policy advocacy, working with Congress and the administrative agencies to ensure, for example, that people with mental disabilities are included under the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act and amendments to the federal Fair Housing Act, and to generate resources such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid that can enable them to live and thrive in the community. In 2009, a major thrust was the integration of mental health in healthcare reform.

Publications

The Bazelon Centre’s publications include reports; issue papers; law, regulation, and policy analyses; advocacy manuals; and consumer-friendly guides to legal rights. These are available for free download from the centre’s website, or print copies may be ordered by postal mail, telephone, or email.

Funding

During the 2015 fiscal year, most of the Bazelon Centre’s revenue came from contributions, gifts, and grants. Notable organisations providing grant support to the Bazelon Centre include the Open Society Foundations and the MacArthur Foundation. Beginning in 1978, the MacArthur Foundation has awarded multiple grants to the Bazelon Centre, totalling $14,035,000 as of 2016.

What is Mental Health Law?

Introduction

Mental health law includes a wide variety of legal topics and pertain to people with a diagnosis or possible diagnosis of a mental health condition, and to those involved in managing or treating such people.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

Laws that relate to mental health include:

  • Employment laws, including laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of a mental health condition, require reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and provide mental health-related leave;
  • Insurance laws, including laws governing mental health coverage by medical insurance plans, disability insurance, workers compensation, and Social Security Disability Insurance;
  • Housing laws, including housing discrimination and zoning;
  • Education laws, including laws that prohibit discrimination, and laws that require reasonable accommodations, equal access to programmes and services, and free appropriate public education;
  • Laws that provide a right to treatment;
  • Involuntary commitment and guardianship laws;
  • Laws governing treatment professionals, including licensing laws, confidentiality, informed consent, and medical malpractice;
  • Laws governing admission of expert testimony or other psychiatric evidence in court; and
  • Criminal laws, including laws governing fitness for trial or execution, and the insanity defence.

Mental health law has received relatively little attention in scholarly legal forums. The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2011 announced the formation of a student-edited law journal entitled “Mental Health Law & Policy Journal.”

United States

Employment

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) is a civil rights law that protects individuals with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), and other mental health conditions in the workplace. It prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from firing, refusing to hire, or taking other adverse actions against a job applicant or employee based on real or perceived mental health conditions. It also strictly limits the circumstances under which an employer can ask for information about medical conditions, including mental health conditions, and imposes confidentiality requirements on any medical information that the employer does have.

The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants or employees with mental health conditions under some circumstances. A reasonable accommodation is a special arrangement or piece of equipment that a person needs because of a medical condition to apply for a job, do a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. Examples include a flexible schedule, changes in the method of supervision, and permission to work from home. To have the right to a reasonable accommodation, the worker’s mental health condition must meet the ADA’s definition of a “current disability.” Conditions that should easily qualify include major depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (“OCD”), and schizophrenia. Other conditions may also qualify, depending on what the symptoms would be if the condition were left untreated, during an active episode (if the condition involves active episodes). The symptoms do not need to be severe or permanent for the condition to be a disability under the ADA.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), certain employees are entitled to up to twelve weeks of job-protected and unpaid leave to recover from a serious illness or to care for a family member with a serious illness, among other reasons. To be eligible, the employer must have had 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, or else must be a public agency, elementary school, or secondary school, and the employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, must have at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12-month period immediately preceding the leave, and must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

United Kingdom

Various pieces of legislation (including the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005) govern mental health law giving mental health professionals the ability to commit individuals, treat them without consent and place restrictions on them while in public through outpatient commitment, according to the rules of this legislation.

These decisions can be challenged through the mental health tribunals which contain members of the judiciary, though the initial decisions are made by mental health professionals alone.

Around the World

Civil Commitment

Mental health legislation is largely used in the management of psychiatric disorders, such as dementia or psychosis, and developmental disabilities where a person does not possess the ability to act in a legally competent manner and requires treatment and/or another person to act in his or her best interests. The laws generally cover the requirements and procedures for involuntary commitment and compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital or other facility.

In some jurisdictions, court orders are required for compulsory treatment; in others, psychiatrists may treat compulsorily by following set procedures, usually with means of appeal or regular scrutiny to ensure compliance with the law.

Sources of Law

Mental health law includes areas of civil and criminal common and statutory law.

Common law is based on long-standing English legal principles, as interpreted through case law. Mental health-related legal concepts include mens rea, insanity defences; legal definitions of “sane,” “insane,” and “incompetent;” informed consent; and automatism, amongst many others.

Statutory law usually takes the form of a mental health statute. An example is the Mental Health Act 1983 in England and Wales. These acts codify aspects of the treatment of mental illness and provides rules and procedures to be followed and penalties for breaches.

Not all countries have mental health acts. The World Health Report (2001) lists the following percentages, by region, for countries with and without mental health legislation.

RegionWith LegislationNo Legislation
Africa59%41%
The Americas73%27%
Eastern Mediterranean59%41%
Europe96%4%
South-East Asia67%33%
Western Pacific72%28%

Note:

  • It is important to note that the WHO has not updated the above figures and a number of the countries included in the Table have since enacted or amended legislation.

What is Capacity (in Scots Law)?

Introduction

Legal capacity is the ability of an individual to transact with others.

It should be distinguished from consent, where the individual with capacity, agrees for another to commit an act involving the consenter, such as consent to sexual relations under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation and Mental Health Law.

Rights Capacity

All persons, human and juristic, have rights capacity, i.e. the ability to hold a right. This derives from the classification of the law of persons found in Roman law.

The word ‘person’ is usually taken to mean humans. However, in Scots law and in many other jurisdictions, the term is also used to describe corporate entities such as companies, or partnerships, Scottish Charitable Incorporate Organisation (SCIO) or other bodies corporate established by law (such as a government agency or local authority).

Organisations and associations must have the rights capacity to own property in their own right in order to act as a transferor (the person transferring ownership) or transferee (the person receiving ownership) in a voluntary transfer of land. It is necessary to check their respective articles of association, constitutions or founding legislation in order to ascertain whether the transferor and/or transferee has rights capacity in order to legally own land in Scotland.

If the transferee in a voluntary transfer is an unincorporated association, which there is no definition in Scots law but is generally interpreted as “a group of persons bound together by agreement for a particular purpose.” Without a corporate body, the association has no legal person status in Scots law and as such when unincorporated associations transact to obtain ownership of the land, all the members of the association instead will own the property jointly in trust rather than ownership of the land vesting in solely in the association itself.

Transactional Capacity (Capacity to Contract)

Children

Children under the age of 16 years old do not have capacity to enter into a transaction. Instead the law provides that those with parental rights and responsibilities under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, Part I can act on a child’s behalf. This means that parents or a legal guardian appointed by the courts can transact on a child’s behalf. However children are still granted a range of exceptions under section 2 of the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991 including:

  • A person under the age of 16 years shall have legal capacity to enter into a transaction of a kind commonly entered into by persons of his age and circumstances, an on not unreasonable terms.
  • A child over 12 years may make a will or testamentary writing.
  • A child over 12 can consent to the making of an adoption order in relation to them.
  • A child under 16 can consent to any surgical, medical or dental procedure or treatment where, in the opinion of a qualified medical practitioner attending him, he is capable of understanding the nature and possible consequences of the procedure or treatment. This also includes the storage of gametes and the donation of cells for research.
  • A child under 16 shall have legal capacity to instruct a solicitor, in connection with any civil matter, where that person has a general understanding of what it means to do so. A child over 12 shall be presumed to be of sufficient age and maturity to have such understanding. A child who has capacity to instruct a solicitor also has the right to sue or be sued in the Scottish courts.

Any other transaction a child enters into is void, this means that contract is void ab initio (Latin: from the beginning) from the moment the child enters into the contract. Where a parent or guardian enters into a prejudicial transaction.

Prejudicial Transactions Remedy for Young Adults (16-18 Years Old)

A person under the age of 21 may apply to the Sheriff court or Court of Session to have any previous prejudicial transactions set aside where the transaction was made by the applicant between the ages of 16 to 18. A prejudicial transaction is that:

“(a)an adult, exercising reasonable prudence, would not have entered into in the circumstances of the applicant at the time of entering into the transaction, and (b) has caused or is likely to cause substantial prejudice to the applicant”

An example of an application can be seen in X v British Broadcasting Corporation, where the applicant was successful in obtaining an interim interdict (in other jurisdiction this is termed an interim injunction) based on her “real prospect of success” in her action against the BBC that, among other things, that the agreement she had reached with the BBC to participate in a courtroom-documentary was a prejudicial transaction because she had been 17 at the time she had consented (transacted) while suffering from dyslexia, substance abuse and did not consult a solicitor prior to entering into the agreement to participate.

Adults Generally

All adults over 16 years old have legal capacity under the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991. However a human person’s capacity to contract may be affected by the following:

Adults Without Capacity

In situations where an adult is infirm, elderly or has other learning/social difficulties, the adult’s capacity to transact may be affected as a consequence and they may be considered incapax, now termed an adult with incapacity under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000. The 2000 Act, one of the first Acts of the new Scottish Parliament, followed on from the Scottish Law Commissions report critical of the contemporary law in 1990. The test for capacity is found in Section 1(6) of the 2000 Act:

  • “Section 1(6) of the Adults With Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000:
  • “adult” means a person who has attained the age of 16 years;
  • “incapable” means incapable of—
  • (a) acting; or
  • (b) making decisions; or
  • (c) communicating decisions; or
  • (d) understanding decisions; or
  • (e) retaining the memory of decisions, as mentioned in any provision of this Act, by reason of mental disorder or of inability to communicate because of physical disability; but a person shall not fall within this definition by reason only of a lack or deficiency in a faculty of communication if that lack or deficiency can be made good by human or mechanical aid (whether of an interpretative nature or otherwise);
  • and “incapacity” shall be construed accordingly.”

If an adult without capacity enters into a contract, the contract is void irrespective of whether the other party knew of the lack of capacity. Under the In its place, a person can act for another individual by means of three legal routes:

  • Power of Attorneys;
  • Intervention Orders; and/or
  • Guardianship Orders.

Companies

Rights Capacity

Organisations and associations must have the rights capacity to own property in their own right in order to act as a transferor (the person transferring ownership) or transferee (the person receiving ownership) in a voluntary transfer of land. It is necessary to check their respective articles of association, constitutions or founding legislation in order to ascertain whether the transferor and/or transferee has rights capacity in order to legally own land in Scotland. Companies and partnerships, and other corporate bodies will usually have rights capacity based on the statute enabling their creation. However, it is a matter of academic debate whether partnerships are capable of owning corporeal heritable property (land) in its own right, or whether the partners hold the property jointly in trust on behalf the partnership.

If the transferee in a voluntary transfer is an unincorporated association, which there is no definition in Scots law but is generally interpreted as “a group of persons bound together by agreement for a particular purpose.” Without a corporate body, the association has no legal person status in Scots law and as such when unincorporated associations transact to obtain ownership of the land, all the members of the association instead will own the property jointly in trust rather than ownership of the property vesting in solely in the association itself.

Transactional Capacity

Organisations and associations must have the transactional capacity to enter into contracts and transfer property in their own right in order to act as a transferor (the person transferring ownership) or transferee (the person receiving ownership) in a voluntary transfer of land. It is necessary to check their respective articles of association, constitutions or founding legislation in order to ascertain whether the transferor and/or transferee has rights capacity in order to legally own land in Scotland. Companies and partnerships, and other corporate bodies will usually have rights capacity based on the statute enabling their creation. However, it is a matter of academic debate whether partnerships are capable of owning corporeal heritable property (land) in its own right, or whether the partners hold the property jointly in trust on behalf the partnership. With transfers of land, an authorised officer of the company or other corporate organisation can act as an agent of the body corporate and sign any formal contracts under the Requirements of Writings (Scotland) Act 1995.

What is the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland?

Introduction

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland is a non-departmental public body, responsible for safeguarding the rights and welfare of people in Scotland with a learning disability, mental illness or other mental disorder.

The Commission was original established by the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1960.

It enquires into cases of alleged ill treatment or deficiency of care or treatment, with investigations that include visits to alleged victims in hospitals and community settings.

The Commission is accountable to the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates for its statutory duties and how its public money is spent. It is required to follow NHS customary accounting rules and to meet NHS financial targets.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Legal Framework

It has statutory duties to safeguard the interests of people considered to be mentally disordered or incapacitated under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 or the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000.

The Scottish Executive’s introduction to the Act specifies:

“Part 2 of the 2003 Act sets out provisions relating to the continued existence of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland. The Commission will have:

  • new duties to monitor the operation of the Act and to promote best practice;
  • specific powers and duties in relation to carrying out visits to patients, investigations, interviews and medical examinations, and to inspect records; and
  • powers and duties to publish information and guidance, and to give advice or bring matters to the attention of others in the mental health law system.

These powers and duties should enable the Commission to maintain and develop its vital role in protecting the rights of service users, and in promoting the effective operation of mental health law. Schedule 1 of the Act sets out more detail on the membership, organisation and general powers of the Commission and makes provision for regulations to specify some matters in more detail, if necessary.”

The same act also set up the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, which hears appeals against detentions and applications for compulsory treatment orders under the 2003 act.

Working with Other Organisations

The Commission also works closely with several other organisations including the Office of the Public Guardian, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the Care Inspectorate.

Location

The offices of the Commission are based in Edinburgh. In 2005 the Scottish Executive had wanted the Commission to relocate to Falkirk as part of a Scotland-wide approach to the location of government jobs. However, the Commission did not need to comply with the policy on the location of government jobs because it is an independent body.

What was the Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 1999?

Introduction

The Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 1999 was an Act of the Scottish Parliament which was passed by the Parliament in September 1999 and was designed to close a loophole in the law which led to the release of mentally ill killer, Noel Ruddle, who was released from the state hospital at Carstairs after arguing its treatment programmes were no longer of benefit to him.

An Act of the Scottish Parliament to add public safety to the grounds for not discharging certain patients detained under the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984; to provide for appeal against the decision of the sheriff on applications by these patients for their discharge; and to amend the definition of “mental disorder” in that Act.

This was the first act passed by the Scottish Parliament after its establishment in 1999.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Purpose of Act

The Act had two main purposes:

The first was to add a new criterion to the statutory tests applied by a sheriff or the Scottish Ministers when considering whether to order the discharge of a restricted patient. The sheriff and the Scottish Ministers must now refuse to order a discharge (either conditional or absolute) if satisfied that the patient has a mental disorder, the effect of which is that continuing detention in hospital is necessary to protect the public from serious harm. That is so whether or not the patient is to receive medical treatment for the mental disorder.

The second is to introduce a right of appeal against a decision, notification or recommendation of a sheriff in relation to an appeal brought by a restricted patient in terms of Part VI of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984. The right of appeal against the sheriff’s decision, notification or recommendation is conferred on both the patient and the Scottish Ministers. The appeal is to the Court of Session.

The Act also widens the term ‘mental disorder’, which appears in earlier legislation, to include a personality disorder.

Brief History

In December 1991, Noel Ruddle killed his neighbour with a Kalashnikov rifle. On 20 March 1992, Ruddle pled guilty to several charges at Glasgow High Court and was ordered to be detained and sent to Carstairs State Hospital without limit of time. Ruddle obtained his released in August 1999 after making a legal appeal at the Lanark Sheriff court on the basis that treatment programmes were no longer of benefit to him. With the risk of other patients at Carstairs making appeals on similar grounds, an emergency bill was quickly brought by the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Parliament. An executive bill was introduced by Jim Wallace on 31 August and some amendments made. It passed on 08 September 1999 and then gained Royal Assent on 13 September 1999, becoming the first legislation to be passed by the Parliament.

In 2001, the legislation survived a challenge made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The act was repealed on 05 October 2005 by the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.

What is the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003?

Introduction

The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, which came into effect on 05 October 2005, is an Act of the Scottish Parliament which enables medical professionals to detain and treat people against their will on grounds of mental disorder, with the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland and the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland providing safeguards against mistreatment.

An Act of the Scottish Parliament to restate and amend the law relating to mentally disordered persons; and for connected purposes.

It largely replaces the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation and the Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 1999.

Detention Certificates

The act provides for short-term detention certificates and emergency detention certificates.

Short-term certificates are referred to by the act as the ‘preferred gateway’ to detention, and lead, notionally, to up to 28 days’ detention during which treatment may be administered against the will of the detainee, and can also lead to compulsory treatment orders, which have longer term implications for the detainee’s liberty.

Detainees can apply to the Mental Health Tribunal for revocation of short-term certificates.

Emergency certificates lead, notionally, to up to 72 hours’ detention, and can also lead to detentions under short-term certificates.

Emergency certificates do not enable treatment against the will of detainees, except for urgent treatment, and there is no formal process of appeal against them.

Unless a certificate is completed for someone who is already in a mental health hospital, both forms of detention are preceded by detention of up to 72 hours in what are called ‘places of safety’, while transport to hospital is arranged.

Also, short-term detentions may be extended for periods of up to three ‘working days’, to facilitate applications to the Mental Health Tribunal for compulsory treatment orders.

Saturdays, Sundays and Scottish bank holidays are not counted as working days.

Principles

The law is based on a set of principles. These principles should be taken into account by anyone involved in a person’s care and treatment.

Past and Present Wishes

Patients should be given the information and support they need to take part in decisions about their care and treatment. To help service users get their views across, the Act puts in place the right to access independent advocacy services. It also puts in place advance statements as a way to help service users say what care and treatment they would and would not want to have. The Mental Health Commission in Scotland examines cases where a person’s advance statement has been overridden.

The Views of any Carer, Guardian or Welfare Attorney

Carers should be involved in decision-making and should be given information they need to help them in their role. We will be developing guidance this year to help service providers and carers with the problem of patient confidentiality and sharing information.

Options

A patient’s care plan should reflect their needs as an individual. A Mental Health Tribunal reviews care that looks for a compulsory treatment order that lasts longer than 2 years or the service users can request this if they wish to appeal a compulsory treatment order after 3 months.

The Care and Treatment that will be of Most Benefit

This should be reflected in a care plan. In addition the Act puts in place safeguards when consent to treatment has not been given.

On many occasions a patient’s care and treatment becomes much to the opinion of any one person, with a psychiatric disorder (mentalis confusio), latest labels that of chemical imbalance or chemical disorder, perplex and confuse not only the patient, but those whom may be designated decision makers on a patient’s behalf. Family members all too often are not given any information, nor the correct questions to ask.

All too often the system fails to accept a lack of science behind these labels. “where is that chemical test for this chemical imbalance?” Truth is that like the word illness: no such disease exists, nor any chemical as where is this chemical test; well paid professionals or populus of institutions together, with no clear facts and no willingness to discuss any way except that of psychiatry & adding of substance of those many same category as Class substances.

Individual Abilities and Background

Important things about a person such as their age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial origin or membership of any ethnic group should be taken into account by people providing care and treatment.

People providing care should also make sure that:

  1. Any restrictions on a person’s freedom are the least necessary.
  2. The person being treated under the act shouldn’t be treated any less favourably than anyone else being treated for a mental illness, or other mental disorder.
  3. Carer’s needs are taken into account.
  4. The person being treated is getting services that are right for them.
  5. When a person is no longer receiving compulsory treatment, he or she should still continue to get care and treatment if it is needed.
  6. If the person being treated is under 18, his or her welfare is of the highest priority.

What is the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000?

Introduction

The Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 (2000 asp 4) is an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

An Act of the Scottish Parliament to make provision as to the property, financial affairs and personal welfare of adults who are incapable by reason of mental disorder or inability to communicate; and for connected purposes.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation and Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Background

It was passed on 29 March 2000, receiving royal assent on 09 May 2000.

It concerns the welfare of adults (the age of legal capacity in Scotland being 16) who are unable to make decisions for themselves because they have a mental disorder or are not able to communicate. It provides the framework for other people (such as carers) to act on the behalf of people with incapacity.

The Act was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament upon it being reconvened in 1999.

Content

  • Part 2 of the act concerns power of attorney and provides the framework for an individual (whilst they have capacity) to appoint someone to act as their continuing (financial) or welfare attorney.
  • Part 3 of the act concerns the accounts and funds of the adult with incapacity. It enables access to the bank or building society account of the adult with incapacity, in order to pay their costs of living.
  • Part 4 of the act concerns the management of finances of adults with incapacity who are residents of registered establishments including health service or private hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, state hospitals and care home services.
  • Part 5 of the act concerns medical research and treatment of adults with incapacity. It allows, under certain circumstances, medical research to be carried out on adults unable to give consent.
  • Part 6 of the act concerns intervention orders and guardianship orders. An intervention order can be applied for by, or on behalf of, an adult with incapacity and granted by the sheriff court. It may cover welfare or financial matters. An application for a guardianship order may be made by individuals or by a local authority regarding an adult with incapacity who may have long-term needs.
  • Part 7 of the act (“Miscellaneous”) makes it an offence for an individual to wilfully neglect and adult with incapacity.

What was the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886?

Introduction

The Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 (49 Vict.c.16) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

It provided a mechanism for a Member of Parliament who was judged to be of unsound mind to be removed from his seat.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

There had been a number of cases of Members of Parliament who were felt, in the language of the time, to be lunatics. The most celebrated of these was John Bell the MP for Thirsk who in July 1849 was found to be insane by a commission of enquiry. It was then discovered that there was no way of depriving him of his seat and he remained a Member until his death in 1851.

In January 1886, Charles Cameron (later Sir Charles), known in the House of Commons as Dr Cameron, introduced the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Bill to deal with the problem. His determination was such that despite being a private members bill it went through all its Parliamentary stages with little opposition, in less than five months and received its Royal Assent on 10 May 1886, hence becoming the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886.

The Act

The Act was very short, barely more than a page long; and containing only three paragraphs.

It states what should happen if any member of the House of Commons should be committed to a lunatic asylum:

All those involved with the committal must send a report to the Speaker of the House of Commons or face a fine.

The Speaker should send the reports to the Commissioners in Lunacy and that two of them should visit the member and report to the Speaker. If the report is that he is of unsound mind then after six months the Speaker should request a further visit. If this second visit shows that the member is still of unsound mind then the reports are placed on the table in the House of Commons and at that point the seat of the member is declared vacant, and a byelection is called for his replacement.

Consequences

In practice there was a reluctance to call on the Act and it was only used once in the rather special circumstances of the First World War. An election was overdue and during the hostilities it was impossible to hold one. In August 1916, in these circumstances, Charles Leach, the MP for Colne Valley, was declared of unsound mind and relieved of his seat.

Repeal

The Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 was repealed and replaced by the Mental Health Act 1959; the Mental Health Act 1959 was itself repealed and replaced by the Mental Health Act 1983.

The section was subsequently repealed by the Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013.

What was the Mental Health Act 1959?

Introduction

The Mental Health Act 1959 was an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom concerning England and Wales which had, as its main objectives, to abolish the distinction between psychiatric hospitals and other types of hospitals and to deinstituitionalise mental health patients and see them treated more by community care.

An Act to Repeal the Lunacy and mental Treatment Acts 1890 to 1930, and the Mental Deficiency Acts 1913 to 1938, and to make fresh provisions with respect to the treatment and care of mentally disordered persons and with respect to their property and affairs, and for purposes connected with matters aforesaid.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

The Act also defined the term mental disorder for the first time: “mental illness as distinct from learning disability. The definition was “mental illness; arrest or incomplete development of mind; psychopathic disorder; and any other disorder or disability of mind”.

At the time, 0.4% of the population of England were housed in asylums, receiving the standard treatments of the time. Their treatment was considered by the 1957 Percy Commission (A central purpose of the Percy Commission was to assess the extent to which people with mental disorders could be treated as voluntary patients.) and the act resulted from its deliberations. The act was designed to make:

  • Treatment voluntary and informal; and
  • Where compulsory give it a proper legal framework and made as a medical decision; and
  • To move treatment, where possible, away from institutional care to that in the community.

The Act repealed the Lunacy and Mental Treatment Acts 1890 to 1930 and the Mental Deficiency Acts 1913 to 1938.

One of the changes introduced by the Act was the abolishment of the category of “moral imbecile”. The category, which had been introduced in 1913, had been defined in so vague terms that it had allowed also mothers of illegitimate children, especially in case of repeated births out of wedlock, to be regarded as “moral imbeciles” and thus to be placed in an institution for defectives or to be placed under guardianship.

Refer to Mental Health Act 1983, the Royal Commission on the Law Relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency (scans of original document can be found here).

What was the Medical Treatment Act 1930?

Introduction

The Mental Treatment Act 1930 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that permitted voluntary admission to, and outpatient treatment within, psychiatric hospitals.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

It also replaced the term “asylum” with “mental hospital”.

It was repealed by the Mental Health Act 1959.