The courts and mental health
Explains what may happen if you are charged with committing a crime, what happens when you to go court, and how your mental health is taken into account.
If you are serving a prison sentence, the prison can send you to hospital for treatment under section 47.
You can only be given a section 47 after you've been convicted of an offence and sent to prison. Before that, you can be transferred to hospital under section 48.
If the prison thinks you are unwell and need to go to hospital, they can ask the Ministry of Justice for permission. The prison must send reports from two doctors saying that:
- you have a 'mental disorder' which means you should be in hospital for treatment, and
- treatment is available for you in hospital.
Your responsible clinician can discharge you at any time. You can also apply to the Mental Health Tribunal or the hospital managers if you want to be discharged (see our pages on leaving hospital for more information on how to do this).
If you are discharged from hospital you can be sent back to prison to finish your sentence.
Once you are discharged from section 47, you will be eligible for free section 117 aftercare.
You can apply:
- once in the first six months after your transfer
- once again in the second six months, and then
- once every year.
It doesn't matter when the hearing takes place – it's the date of the application that must be within these periods.
See our pages on leaving hospital for more information about the Mental Health Tribunal.
The Ministry of Justice is responsible for deciding whether you should be transferred to hospital or from hospital back to prison. You could potentially challenge these decisions, including a decision not to transfer you, by judicial review. See our pages on complaining about health and social care decisions for more information on how to do this.
This is a type of court procedure where a judge reviews a public authority’s decision, policy, practice, act or failure to act, and decides whether it is lawful or not.
If it is not lawful, the court may cancel the decision or action (‘quash’ it), and require the public authority to reconsider it, lawfully. The court can order the authority to do or not do something.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
Responsible clinician (RC)
Certain decisions, such as applying for someone who is sectioned to go onto a community treatment order (CTO), can only be taken by the responsible clinician.
All responsible clinicians must be approved clinicians. They do not have to be a doctor, but in practice many of them are.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
Hospital managers (also known as Mental Health Act managers)
Hospital managers are an independent team of people in a hospital who make sure that the requirements of the Mental Health Act are properly applied. They have certain important responsibilities and can make decisions related to your detention.
In practice, most of the day-to-day decisions are taken by individuals authorised by the hospital managers to do so. This can include hospital staff. Decisions about discharge are normally delegated to a team of people who are independent of the hospital. You can apply to them to be discharged from your section and they will decide whether or not to discharge you.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
Mental Health Tribunal (MHT)
This is a special court that deals with cases relating to the Mental Health Act 1983. The Tribunal decides whether you can be discharged from your section. It can sometimes make recommendations about matters such as hospital leave, transfer to another hospital, guardianship and community treatment orders (CTOs).
The court is made of a panel, which normally includes:
- a legally qualified chairperson
- a ‘lay member’ who has appropriate experience and qualifications in the area of mental health
- an independent psychiatrist, who will speak to you and examine you before the tribunal hearing in certain circumstances, and when you request to see them
Where you see a reference to the Mental Health Tribunal in this guide, it means:
- First Tier Tribunal (Mental Health), if you live in England, or
- Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales, if you live in Wales.
Section 117 aftercare
Some people who have been kept in hospital under the Mental Health Act can get free help and support after they leave hospital. The law that gives this right is section 117 of the Mental Health Act, and it is often referred to as 'section 117 aftercare'.
Health authorities and local social services have a legal duty to provide you with section 117 aftercare if:
- you've been detained under Mental Health Act sections 3, 37, 47 or 48, but have left hospital, or
- you're under a community treatment order (CTO).
When the Mental Health Act talks about someone with mental health problems and whether or not they should be sectioned, it often uses the term 'mental disorder'. The Act says that this can include "any disorder or disability of mind".
Mental disorder can include:
- any mental health problem normally diagnosed in psychiatry
- certain learning disabilities.
This information was published in July 2018.
This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published.
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