When can you be detained under the Mental Health Act?


In order to be detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) you must have a mental disorder and the court must order your detention. Amendments were made to the Act in 2007 but it is still referred to as the MHA 1983.

The MHA defines three types of mental disorder:

  • The first is ‘severe mental impairment’. This is a state of arrested or incomplete development of the mind, which is responsible for the severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning. It is associated with abnormally aggressive or irresponsible behaviour on behalf of the person concerned
  • The second type of mental disorder is ‘mental impairment’. This type of mental disorder has the same characteristics as severe mental impairment, but to a lesser extent. Solicitors can advise how these types of mental impairment could impact on any case the person becomes involved in as either a victim or a witness. Civil and criminal law solicitors can advise in these areas
  • The third type of mental disorder under the MHA is a ‘psychopathic disorder’. This is classified as a persistent disorder or disability of mind which results in abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible behaviour by the person concerned

A person also can be detained under the MHA if they have a mental illness. Mental illness is not defined in the MHA but the courts have previously included:

  • Arrested or incomplete development
  • Psychopathic disorder
  • Any disorder or disability of the mind e.g. schizophrenia, eating disorders, and bi-polar disorder, but generally excludes learning disabilities and dependence on alcohol or drugs

Medical opinion

In addition to the requirement to have a mental disorder or illness, the person must be also considered a threat to their own health and safety or the safety of others, in order for the court to order their detention.

This opinion must be given in writing by two registered medical practitioners in the application for assessment and treatment.

What rights do you have whilst detained?

A person detained under the MHA is entitled to remain in control of their property and finances.

If a person is not considered to be capable of maintaining control over their affairs, an application must be made to the court in order to appoint a receiver. A solicitor can make this application to the court on behalf of the detained person’s family.

A detained person also has the right to receive visitors from relative and friends when they are detained. This right can only be refused in limited and justified circumstances.

For example, if the visit would impair the patient’s recovery or if the relative or friend is supplying illegal drugs to the patient. Any objection to these visits can be challenged in court.

People detained under the MHA have the right to appeal their detention. The conditions of appeal will depend on the part of the MHA under which they were sectioned. Your circumstances will determine which section of the MHA applies to you, and a specialist solicitor can recommend the best course of action for your case.

Has there been a breach under the Mental Health Act? Contact Law can put you in touch with a solicitor specialising in mental health law matters. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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