What should a new Mental Health Act do?
The Government is clear that “The purpose of mental health law is to protect patients and others from harm that can arise from mental disorder” (Improving Mental Health Law: Towards a new Mental Health Act, Summary, September 2004). New legislation is certainly needed to update the Mental Health Act 1983, partly to reflect changes in practice and partly to address breaches of human rights legislation. Unfortunately the Government has followed traditional thinking about mental health law. It should have started from the premise that patient and public protection is best served not just by measures taken in certain limited circumstances when a patient becomes seriously ill, but by setting out duties to provide good care from an early stage of illness. This it fails to do. The Bill therefore starts from the wrong perspective. Rather than tackle issues of patient care and support, it focuses on risk and dangerousness. At a time when the Government is promoting the cause of patient choice,