‘RIGHT TO LIFE’ – LANDMARK RULING
Mental Health Charity, Mind, wins important legal battle over patients’ ‘right to life’
In a major victory for patients and their families, the House of Lords ruled, recently, that people detained under the Mental Health Act have the same ‘right to life’ as those in prison, following intervention from leading mental health charity Mind. Hospitals must now be seen to take reasonable measures to avoid real and immediate risks of harm to patients who have been sectioned, and so compulsorily detained.
The ruling by five Law Lords results from the case brought by Anna Savage against South Essex NHS Trust, concerning her mother, Carol, who took her own life in July 2004 after absconding from Runwell Hospital where she was being detained. It sets an important precedent, holding health authorities responsible for taking measures to properly assess and prevent the risk of suicide. The High Court had previously ruled that unless gross negligence could be established, they could not be held liable for a breach of the right to life.
Lord Rodger said that hospitals were responsible for the health and wellbeing of their detained patients and had an obligation, if they knew that a patient presented a “real and immediate” risk of suicide, to do all they could to prevent it.
In its intervention, Mind, along with Liberty, Justice and Inquest, argued that a person detained under the Mental Health Act will often be more vulnerable than a prisoner because of the sweeping powers of the Act, and that the State’s obligation to them should therefore be applied with even greater force.
Tracy Jenkins, the Head of Mind’s Legal team, said: “Mind is delighted by this historic decision. It marks a turning point for mental health inpatients and their families and should provide a stricter regime of security and care for those who are at risk when they are at their most vulnerable.”
Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales and works to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress. www.mind.org.uk