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Major overhaul of Ulster's mental health laws urged by review team

By Claire Regan

Northern Ireland laws dealing with people with mental health needs or learning disabilities need a radical shake-up to safeguard them greater rights and equality, a review team urged today.

In its tenth and final report, the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability said there needs to be a major overhaul of the law relating to people who are not able to make decisions themselves, known as " substitute decision-making".

The long-running review instead wants to see the introduction of laws concerning health, welfare, and finance issues which respect the rights of someone with mental ill-health "whose freedoms may need to be interfered with on healthcare grounds, where appropriate, to protect public safety ".

The review team said that existing mental health legislation is " out-of-date and inappropriate for people who may not be in a position to take decisions for themselves".

It added that while the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 works well in part, it may not be "human rights compliant".

"Nor is it based on the principles which the review has identified as essential," the report said.

"The 1986 Order allows the individual's autonomy to be over-ridden in the interests of his own or other's safety, and the legal powers focus on compulsory assessment based on a relatively narrow definition of risk, rather than ensuring appropriate treatment for those require it."

Instead the proposed legislation will prioritise safeguarding the rights and dignity of those people affected by mental health issues, and ensure they have access to appropriate care and treatment.

Brian Hall, who chaired the review committee, described the recommendations as "quite radical".

"We recognised from the outset that legislative reform and modernisation must be based on agree principles and take account of a person's human rights.

"The approach we have taken has also been informed by developments in mental health law and capacity law, nationally and internationally.

"We have provided a framework which will provide equally for all circumstances in which a person might require substitute decision-making, in relation to his or her mental health, physical health, welfare or financial needs."

The Bamford Review began in 2002 and has cost £1m to complete.

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