The Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act (the Act) is the main piece of legislation guiding the compulsory inpatient admission and treatment of people with mental health problems in England and Wales.

At any one time around one in six people are experiencing symptoms of mental illness and one in four people will experience mental health problems at some time in their lives(Department of Health). The vast majority of these will be treated on an outpatient basis.

You might find that being taken to hospital against your will is stressful and upsetting. If you are detained under the Mental Health Act and wish to appeal, our staff will help you. The ward you are on will have a list of mental health solicitors who will be able to advise you. In most cases, you can get free legal representation at your tribunal or managers’ hearing under the Legal Aid scheme. You may find it useful to get support from an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA).

The guiding principles

The Act prioritises clear communication and thorough explanation of patients’ rights and circumstances, especially where they have been detained.

There are principles which should be considered when making decisions under the Act:

  • Least restrictive option and maximising independence
  • Empowerment and involvement
  • Respect and dignity
  • Purpose and effectiveness
  • Efficiency and equity

Detention under the Act

People may be detained under the Act following (in most cases) an application by an approved mental health professional (who will usually be a specially trained social worker) based on two medical recommendations from appropriately qualified doctors.


A person can only be detained if they appear to be suffering from a mental disorder and present a risk to their own health and safety or to others.

The nearest relative

A patient who is detained under the Act will normally have an identified nearest relative. This is not the same as a person’s next of kin, but is identified by means of a strict procedure set out in the Act.

A person’s nearest relative must be consulted prior to their detention and if a nearest relative objects to the patient being placed on section 3, the detention cannot go ahead, unless the nearest relative is displaced, which can only happen if the County Court agrees that certain conditions are met.

Useful Web Links

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