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Mental Health Act 1983

  • Last modified date:
    20 August 2012

Updated Acts of Parliament (including the Mental Health Act 1983) are also available from the UK Statute Law Database:

To order a copy of the original (unamended) Mental Health Act 1983 please contact The Stationery Office.

Summary of the Mental Health Act 1983

1. The main purpose of the Mental Health Act 1983 is to allow compulsory action to be taken, where necessary, to make sure that people with mental disorders get the care and treatment they need for their own health or safety, or for the protection of other people. It sets out the criteria that must be met before compulsory measures can be taken, along with protections and safeguards for patients.

2. Part 2 of the Act sets out the civil procedures under which people can be detained in hospital for assessment or treatment of mental disorder. Detention under these procedures normally requires a formal application by either an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) or the patient’s nearest relative, as described in the Act. An application is founded on two medical recommendations made by two qualified medical practitioners, one of whom must be approved for the purpose under the Act. Different procedures apply in the case of emergencies.

3. In certain circumstances, people who have been detained in hospital for treatment can be discharged onto a Community Treatment Order (CTO) by their responsible clinician, the senior professional in charge of their case. This means they are free to leave hospital and continue their treatment in the community, subject to the possibility of being recalled to hospital if necessary.  This is also known as Supervised Community Treatment (SCT).

4. Part 2 also sets out the procedures for making an application for someone to be received into guardianship under the Act. 

5. Part 3 of the Act concerns the criminal justice system. It provides powers for Crown or Magistrates’ Courts to remand an accused person to hospital either for treatment or a report on their mental disorder. It also provides powers for a Court to make a hospital order, on the basis of two medical recommendations, for the detention in hospital of a person convicted of an offence who requires treatment and care. The Court may also make a guardianship order. A restriction order may be imposed at the same time as a hospital order to place restrictions on the movement and discharge of a patient for the protection of the public; all movement is then subject to the agreement of the Secretary of State for Justice. This part of the Act also contains powers to transfer prisoners to hospital for treatment of a mental disorder.

Most patients who are detained in hospital under the Act can be given treatment for their mental disorder without their consent.  Some types of treatment have to be approved first by an independent doctor - a Second Opinion Appointed Doctor (SOAD). Unless it is an emergency, patients who have the capacity to consent cannot be given Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) unless they agree. SOADs must also approve certain types of treatment given to SCT patients. With very limited exceptions, SCT patients cannot be treated against their wishes unless they have been recalled to hospital. 
6. Most patients who are detained, or on SCT or guardianship, have the right to apply to a Tribunal for their discharge. The Tribunal is an independent, judicial body. Part 5 of the Act sets out when patients, and sometimes their nearest relatives can apply. Most detained patients and all SCT patients can also ask the managers of the relevant hospital to discharge them. Patients’ responsible clinicians must also keep the appropriateness of continued compulsory measures under review.

7. In England, the Care Quality Commission is responsible for monitoring the way the Act is used and protecting the interests of patients. It sends Mental Health Act Commissioners to visit hospitals and talk to patients about their care and treatment. It also appoints SOADs.

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