by Professor Judy Laing, University of Bristol Law School
The government published a White Paper in January 2021 outlining proposals to reform the Mental Health Act in England and Wales. The government has consulted on these proposals and the consultation period closed a few weeks ago on 21st April 2021. We now await further announcements on the government’s plans following this consultation process. I am currently engaged in a parliamentary academic fellowship, working with Lizzie Parkin (a University of Bristol alumna) in the House of Commons Library Social Policy section. The Library offers an impartial research and information service for MPs and their staff. Part of my role involves working on research briefings to inform Members of Parliament on business in the House of Commons. Mental health law reform will no doubt be debated in parliament in the coming months and I have developed a detailed research briefing on the proposals in the White Paper to assist parliamentarians with that process. (more…)
By Prof Judy Laing, Professor of Mental Health Law, Rights and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)
Mental Health Awareness week is an important time to reflect on how the Covid-19 pandemic is generating a global crisis in mental health. Earlier this month, the United Nations published a policy brief warning that: ‘Although the Covid crisis is, in the first instance, a physical health crisis, is has the seeds of a major mental health crisis as well.’
Stringent lockdown measures have increased social isolation, and for many, this is creating huge psychological distress. That is further impacted by the fear of infection, death and losing relatives and close friends to the virus. The state of the economy is creating additional anxiety and stress for those who have lost or are at risk of losing their income and livelihoods. Professor David Gunnell (a colleague at the University of Bristol who researches on suicide and self-harm) has highlighted with others in The Lancet that the pandemic will ‘leave many people vulnerable to mental health problems and suicidal behaviour, and increased risks of suicide’. Taking action now to prevent the risk of suicide is therefore imperative. And the United Nations policy brief also urges national governments to take positive action to ensure widespread availability of mental health support, as well as building mental health services for the future to promote recovery from the pandemic. (more…)
By Prof Judy Laing, Professor of Mental Health law, Rights and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)
As the general election approaches and you consider whether to use your vote, spare a thought for the thousands of people who are detained in psychiatric hospitals or living in residential care/nursing homes, and who may not even realise that they are entitled to vote, or be given the opportunity to do so.
Government statistics suggest that there were 21,439 people reported as being subject to compulsory detention under the Mental Health Act 1983 on 31st March 2018, and over three quarters of these people were being detained in hospital in England. The majority of these detained patients have the same right to vote as the general population, but they are one of the most disenfranchised groups in society. Surveys have found that psychiatric in-patient uptake and knowledge of voting rights is generally poor. For example, a study on the general election in 2010 found that eligible psychiatric in-patients were half as likely to register as the general population; half as likely to vote if registered, and patients who had been in hospital for longer periods were particularly affected. Moreover, research also suggests that knowledge of patients’ voting rights amongst mental health professionals could be improved. (more…)
By Dr Judy Laing, Reader in Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (University of Bristol Law School).
Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20th May) is a good opportunity for us to reflect on how far mental health has emerged from the shadows over the last decade. For too long, mental health has been neglected in England and Wales, and this is particularly true for our main political parties, where up until quite recently, mental health has rarely featured in pre-election manifestos. There are now positive signs that this is changing and the nation’s mental health is now firmly on the political agenda.
As the King’s Fund identified in a report in 2015, mental health has finally become a political priority for the major political parties. We saw evidence of this in Theresa May’s Conservative party conference speech in October 2017, as she expressed her desire to tackle the injustice and stigma associated with mental health. This was accompanied by a government pledge to direct additional resources to frontline mental health services and staff. This rhetorical commitment to prioritise mental health is welcome and long overdue, but of course, it must be followed by clear action on the ground in terms of additional staff, services and support, if we are going to witness a radical change in the reality of life for the 1 in four of us who will suffer from a mental health problem each year. (more…)
A comment on R (on the application of A and B) v Secretary of State for Health  UKSC 41.
By Dr Sheelagh McGuinness, Senior Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Prof Keith Syrett, Professor of Law (University of Cardiff, School of Law and Politics).
The start of June 2017 saw abortion law in Northern Ireland (NI) making the news for several reasons. On June 9th, Theresa May announced that she intended to try and form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Members of this radically conservative party from NI have long been vocal in their opposition to abortion. Some feared that restrictions on abortion legislation might form part of negotiations between the two parties. On June 13th, the Department of Health published ‘The Report on abortion statistics in England and Wales for 2016’ which contained details on the number of women who travelled from NI to England to access abortion care. Then, on June 14th, the Supreme Court handed down an important decision on NHS funding for women who travel from NI to England to access abortions. These women, save in exceptional cases, must pay for abortion care privately, notwithstanding their status as UK citizens and (in many cases) UK taxpayers. In this blog we examine the Supreme Court decision and the context within which women travel from NI to have abortions in England.
In 2012 A, a 15-year-old girl, became pregnant. She did not want to continue with the pregnancy and with the support of her mother, B, arranged to have a termination in England. A and B were surprised to find out that as A was resident in NI she would have to pay for the termination in England. Believing this to be unfair B, on A’s behalf, started proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of this policy. Their challenge contained two key claims. First, that the Secretary of State for Health was acting unlawfully in refusing to permit women from NI to access NHS funded abortions [the public law claim]. Second, that women in NI were being discriminated against as compared to other women in the UK [the human rights claim].
A and B were unsuccessful in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal. Their appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed by a majority of 3:2. (more…)