chapter  10
11 Pages

The legal aspects of psychiatric disorders

In Chapter 1 of this book we gave some indication of ways in which the law reflected changing attitudes towards the psychiatrically ill, and how fear of mentally ill people led to an undue emphasis on how to contain them, while at the same time protecting their rights. This resulted in a mass of complicated legislation which catered for the mentally ill and the mentally subnormal, as distinct entities, right up to the passing of the Mental Health Act of 1959. (In Scotland, The Mental Health (Scotland) Act, 1960.)

The Act virtually swept away all previous legislation and was designed to give the maximum encouragement to patients, suffering from any form of mental illness or disability, to seek treatment promptly and voluntarily (on an informal basis). At the same time, it attempted to ensure that there were adequate restraints and safeguards where patients, in their own interests and for the safety of others, had to be compulsorily admitted to hospital and detained during treatment. A good example of this latter point was the case of Mr Crewe in Chapter 9. It will be remembered that Mr Crewe was brought before the Crown Court on a charge of attempted murder and that the prison Medical Officer gave evidence as to his mental state. The reader will also recall that he was committed to hospital and not to prison. In such cases the law provides for the making of enquiries into an offender’s mental state, so that he can be dealt with in the most humane manner possible.