Paul Stemman

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Mental Health Act 1983

This is the most important piece of legislation for mental health services. The Act says under what circumstances a person can be detained. It also says what needs to happen if a person is detained. How long for? Who decides?


A video and DVD is available that explains the rights patients have under the Act. The video is in BSL with a voiceover and subtitles. For more details contact Forest Books.



Basic overview of the Act

The Act relates to people who have a "mental disorder" and offers a legal definition of this: severe mental impairment, mental impairment, psychopathic disorder, mental illness. This last category is not clearly defined. The definition also says that some behaviours cannot - by themselves - be signs of mental disorder, e.g. using drugs.


For people to be detained they must be considered a risk to themselves or others.


People often refer to a "section". This means that they have been detained under a particular section of the Act. Different sections have different conditions. The two most commons sections are:


Section 2 - detained for assessment. Needs two appropriate doctors to see the patient and agree. Limited to 28 days.

Section 3 - detained for treatment. Two appropraite doctors need to apply. Can be up to 6 months.


Other sections deal with circumstances such as a person who has been found guilty of a criminal offence, leave from hospital, someone being taken to a place of safety, etc.


The Act says who can apply for someone to be detained. It also says hat rights a patient has to appeal. This is normally by making their case at a Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT). A patient often has a solicitor act on their behalf at a Tribunal. The Tribunal panel is made up of three peolple: an ordinary 'lay' person, someone with a medical background, and someone with a legal background.


The Mental Health Act Commission oversees the operation of the Act and produces a report every two years.


More detailed information on the Act is available from the Department of Health website and Mind.



Reform of the Act

The Act has now been amended - although the new legislation is not yet in force.