A new legislative framework for mental capacity and mental health legislation in Northern Ireland: an analysis of the current proposals

Maura McCallion, Ursula O'Hare


When the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability completed its work in the autumn of 2007, it drew to a close an extensive consultation and analysis of mental health and learning disability services and the law in Northern Ireland. Its last report on A Comprehensive Legislative Framework made
a compelling case for a major overhaul of the law that the Review team itself described as ‘quite radical’. The Review identified the case for reform in the need to ensure that mental health law conforms to the requirements of human rights law, reflects changes to professional practice, reflects the needs of service
users and their carers, and keeps pace with reform elsewhere in the UK. Alone of all the jurisdictions in the UK, Northern Ireland has been operating largely in a legislative vacuum in relation to mental capacity law. The Review’s proposals for reform therefore extended to reform of mental health law and the introduction of mental capacity law.

In the autumn of 2008 the NI Executive published its response to the Bamford Review indicating that it intended to develop the law sequentially: reform of the Mental Health (NI) Order 1986 by 2011 followed by the introduction of mental capacity law in 2014. Responses to the Executive’s consultation resulted in
the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) revising its approach and it signalled its intention to bring forward mental capacity and mental health legislation together. This reated a unique opportunity in Northern Ireland for fusion of incapacity and mental health legislation. A further consultation paper was issued in January 2009, setting out the key approaches to the content
of two bills. However as a result of the consultation, the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey announced in September 2009 that there would be a single bill with an overall principle of autonomy. His press statement noted: “ A strong body of opinion, particularly from professional groups and lead voluntary organisations, which considered that separate mental health legislation continues to be stigmatising and recommended that mental capacity and mental health provisions should instead be encompassed into a single piece of legislation”

This short paper provides an overview of the current direction of travel on law reform in Northern Ireland. It comments on the policy climate and arguments for a fusion of mental capacity and mental health legislation. It also highlights some of the key policy issues that will need to be further explored as the Department develops its law reform proposals and concludes with some hopes and fears for the new legislation.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.19164/ijmhcl.v0i20.262


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