What is the Human Rights Act?
This is a significant piece of legislation which ensures the powers of the “state” are not imbalanced against the powers of the individual. This means that anyone who works for the state (such as Police, Nurses, Dr’s etc.) cannot over use their powers to prevent someone’s right to carry out their daily business of life or deprive them of their liberty.
Why is the Human Rights Act relevant to the Mental Health Act?
The Human Rights Act is vital in everything we do for the people of the country because it tells us we can only act in a proportionate way to achieve necessary goals. For example interviewing people appropriately, ensuring access to freedom of movement, private family life etc.
Article 2 – The Right to Life
Article 2 is Right to Life. This places a duty on “the state” to protect life. In terms of mental health it can be important that we sometimes take positive risks for people. However there is a limit to what we can do in terms of taking positive risks as we need to be sure there is no clear immediate risk to someone’s life – if we fail to act then we would breach that right.
Article 3 – The Prohibition of Torture
Article 3 is Prohibition of Torture. A key focus of this article is to prevent degrading or inhumane treatment. There have been occasions where “the state” has failed to secure the dignity of service users in their care. Winterbourne could be considered an example of where this article was at risk of being breached.
Article 5 – The Right to Liberty and Security
Article 5 is the Right to Liberty and Security. Sometimes under the provisions of the Mental Health Act we are deciding whether someone needs to be detained in hospital for their own health, safety or that of others. If we are going to do that we need to be clear that this is proportionate to the need and that those detained have a right to appeal.
Article 6 - Right to Private and Family Life
Article 6 is the Right to Private and Family life. This is a “qualified right” therefore we have to justify why we may infringe on that right when we do. It prevents “the state” intruding on people’s private lives unless they have just cause to do so – in terms of mental health we need a clear reason to take further action if someone for example refuses a visit etc.
What are Qualified Rights?
Under the Human Rights Act there are “absolute rights” and “qualified rights”. “Absolute rights” cannot be infringed such as prohibition of torture and right to life. “Qualified rights” need clear justification if infringed – for example someone may be deprived of their liberty to protect others etc.