Get help now Make a donation

Legal glossary

Explains legal terms that you may find when dealing with mental health-specific law.

Search for your term


Absolute discharge

This is where you are discharged from hospital without any conditions you have to follow. It is different from a conditional discharge.

Absolute right

Absolute human rights cannot be taken away under any circumstances or for any reason. The right to a fair trial (Article 6) is an example of an absolute right.

Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is an organisation that provides information, advice, training, conciliation and other services for employers and employees to help prevent or resolve workplace problems.

ACAS offers a free Early Conciliation service. If you want to take a disability discrimination challenge against your employer at the Employment Tribunal, you have to contact ACAS first and you need proof that you have done so before you can start a claim.


This means you are free from your criminal charge.

Advance decision

An advance decision is a statement of instructions about what medical treatment you want to refuse in case you lose the capacity to make these decisions in the future. It is legally binding.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.

Advance statement

An advance statement is a written document that sets out your preferences (apart from refusals of treatment). It is not legally binding. You can ask a professional to follow this document if you ever lose capacity to make these decisions yourself.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.


An advocate is a person who can both listen to you and speak for you in times of need. Having an advocate can be helpful in situations where you are finding it difficult to make your views known, or to make people listen to them and take them into account.

See our pages on advocacy for more information.

Anticipatory duty

Organisations and people who provide services or public functions and clubs and associations have to plan in advance to take account of the difficulties that disabled people may face.

This means they must think and plan ahead to make sure that disabled people can access their services. This includes thinking about reasonable adjustments they could make.


An appointee is someone appointed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to help manage your benefits for you if you lose capacity to manage them yourself.

Appropriate adult

If you are held by the police and they realise, or are told, that you have a mental health problem, you have the right to be accompanied by an appropriate adult.

They should be an adult who is independent of the police, such as a member of your family or a mental health worker, but they cannot be your solicitor. You may be asked if you have a friend or family member you would like to ask or it could be a professional.

An appropriate adult should:

  • make sure that you get a solicitor
  • request that you are seen by a doctor
  • help you to communicate with the police
  • be present if you are questioned about an offence.

See our pages on police and mental health for more information.

Appropriate healthcare practitioner

This is the term used for the medical professional who is called to the police station if you need medical assessment or treatment.

Appropriate treatment or appropriate medical treatment

This means medical treatment for your mental health problem that is:

  • suitable for you
  • available
  • takes into account the nature and degree of your mental health problem and your individual circumstances.

Approved clinician

This is a mental health professional who has certain responsibilities related to your healthcare. They are approved to do this by the Department of Health (England) or by the Welsh Ministers (Wales).

Approved clinicians may be:

  • doctors
  • psychologists
  • nurses
  • occupational therapists
  • social workers

Some decisions under the Mental Health Act, such as deciding on your medication or giving you permission to leave the ward or hospital, can only be taken by approved clinicians.

Approved mental health professional (AMHP)

AMHPs are mental health professionals who have been approved by a local social services authority to carry out duties under the Mental Health Act. They are responsible for coordinating your assessment and admission to hospital if you are sectioned.

They may be:

  • social workers
  • nurses
  • occupational therapists 
  • psychologists.


The police will stop you and detain you if they are investigating or preventing a crime and think that you are involved.


Each human right is referred to as a separate article in the Human Rights Act 1998, for example, Article 2: Right to life. These articles come from the European Convention on Human Rights.


An attorney is a person over the age of 18 whom you have appointed to make decisions on your behalf about your welfare and/or your property and financial affairs. You need an attorney if you are unable to make such decisions yourself. If you do not have the capacity to appoint an attorney, the Court of Protection will appoint a deputy to perform this role.

  • A health and welfare attorney makes decisions about things like your daily routine, your medical care, where you live and, if you specially request this, whether you should have life-sustaining treatment.
  • A property and financial affairs attorney makes decisions about things like paying bills, collecting benefits and selling your home.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.

Authorised person

An authorised person can be any of the following:

  • someone who is authorised under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to act for you, such as a deputy or someone acting under a personal welfare lasting power of attorney
  • someone who is considered suitable by a person authorised under the Mental Capacity Act 2005
  • if there is not a person authorised under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, someone who the local authority considers is suitable.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.



Release from custody, possibly with certain conditions attached (for example to return to the police station or to go to court at a certain time).

Barring report

This is the report written by the responsible clinician stopping the discharge of someone under section when an application has been made by the nearest relative.

Basic DBS check

A check of your criminal record which will show your convictions and cautions which are not spent. You can apply for a basic DBS check yourself if you live or work in England or Wales.

Best interests

Health professionals must act in your best interests before taking certain steps that affect your care and treatment.

The Mental Capacity Act has a best interests checklist, which outlines what health professionals need to consider before taking an action or decision for you while you lack capacity.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.



'Capacity' means the ability to understand information and make decisions about your life. Sometimes it can also mean the ability to communicate decisions about your life.

For example, if you do not understand the information and are unable to make a decision about your treatment, you are said to 'lack capacity' to make decisions about your treatment.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.

Care Act 2014

This is the law which sets out the local authorities’ duties in relation to assessing people’s needs and their eligibility for care and support (adult social care), including carers who need support. It applies in England only.

Care and Treatment Planning (CTP)

Care and Treatment Planning is a way that secondary mental health services are assessed, planned, coordinated and reviewed for someone that lives in Wales. It comes from a law called the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010.

Secondary mental health services include the community mental health team (CMHT), assertive outreach team and early intervention team.

You should get:

  • a full assessment of your health and social care needs
  • a care plan
  • regular reviews
  • a care coordinator who will be responsible for overseeing your care and support.

See our pages on leaving hospital for more information.

Care coordinator

A care coordinator is the main point of contact and support if you need ongoing mental health care. They keep in close contact with you while you receive mental health care and monitor how that care is delivered – particularly when you’re outside of hospital. They are also responsible for carrying out an assessment to work out your health and social care needs under the care programme approach (CPA).

A care coordinator could be any mental health professional, for example:

  • a nurse
  • a social worker
  • another mental health worker.

This is decided according to what is most appropriate for your situation.

A care coordinator usually works as part of the community mental health team.

Care Programme Approach (CPA)

The Care Programme Approach (CPA) is a way that secondary mental health services are assessed, planned, coordinated and reviewed for someone that lives in England (see: secondary care).

Secondary mental health services include the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), Assertive Outreach Team and Early Intervention Team.

You should get:

  • a full assessment of your health and social care needs
  • a care plan
  • regular reviews
  • a care coordinator who will be responsible for overseeing your care and support.

See our pages on leaving hospital for more information.

Carer's assessment

This is an assessment for carers, to find out what their needs for support are.


This could be two different things:

  • A statement read to you when you are arrested, interviewed and charged.
  • A formal warning given by a senior police officer, usually in a police station, after a person has committed an offence. This is used instead of charging and potentially prosecuting someone. Some cautions are described as 'conditional'. This means a person must follow certain conditions for a period of time after the caution is issued, to avoid being prosecuted for the offence. A caution with no conditions is described as a 'simple' caution.

Certificate dispute form

This is the form you use if you are unhappy about the content of a DBS certificate.

Certificate of capacity

This is a document, signed by a certificate provider, confirming that you understand why you are making a lasting power of attorney, and that no fraud or undue pressure has been used on you to force you to make it. You need to include a certificate of capacity with your forms when naming someone as your attorney.


Being charged means you've been formally accused of committing a crime. You will be given a paper called a 'charge sheet' which will have details of the allegations, the date you have to go to court, and any conditions of bail.


A child is a person under the age of 18.

Circuit judge

Circuit judges are senior judges in England and Wales who sit in the Crown Court, county courts and certain specialised sub-divisions of the High Court of Justice. Circuit judges sit below High Court judges but above district judges. They will be a barrister or solicitor having been qualified at least 7 years.

Civil Procedure Rules (CPR)

These are the rules which set out how a case is to be conducted in the civil courts (as opposed to criminal courts) in England and Wales. The aim of these rules is to make the court procedures fairer and easier to understand.


‘Bringing a claim’ means going to court to try to put right a breach of your legal rights, for example your human rights. You can also bring a claim in other areas of law.

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)

CCGs were replaced by integrated care boards (ICBs) in 2022. 

Clinical negligence

A clinical negligence claim is when you make a claim for compensation because the care you received from a professional was not good enough and caused you harm.

Code of Practice to the Care Act

This is published guidance that tells local authorities how they should meet their legal obligations under the Care Act and the regulations under it. Local authorities must follow it, unless they can show a legal reason why they can't.

You might also sometimes see it referred to as the 'Care and support statutory guidance', or the 'Statutory guidance issued under the Care Act 2014'.

Code of Practice under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014

There are seven Codes of Practice which are guidance to local authorities and local health boards on how they should meet their obligations under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

Local authorities and local health boards must follow the guidance in the Codes of Practice unless they can show legal reasons why they can't.


A cohabitee is person who lives with another person as if they are married without having gone through the legal process of marriage.

Community sentence

This is a type of sentence where you won't have to go to prison but you might have some conditions in the community. This might be:

  • unpaid work
  • living at a particular place, or
  • receiving mental health treatment.

Community mental health team (CMHT)

CMHTs support people with mental health problems living in the community, and also their carers. The team may include:

  • a social worker
  • a community psychiatric nurse (CPN)
  • a psychologist
  • an occupational therapist
  • a counsellor
  • a community support worker.

Community treatment order (CTO)

If you have been sectioned and treated in hospital under certain sections, your responsible clinician can put you on a CTO. This means that you can be discharged from the section and leave hospital, but you might have to meet certain conditions such as living in a certain place, or going somewhere for medical treatment. Sometimes, if you don't follow the conditions or you become unwell, you can be returned to hospital.

See our pages on CTOs for more information.

Conditional discharge

This is where you are discharged from hospital but will have to follow some conditions, such as living at a particular place or meeting healthcare professionals. If you break these conditions, you can be recalled to hospital.

You can only be put under a conditional discharge if you have been:

  • sectioned by a court under certain sections of the Mental Health Act and have been charged with a crime and you are a restricted patient under a restriction order, or
  • transferred to hospital from prison under the Mental Health Act and you are a restricted patient under a restriction direction.

Conditional fee arrangement (CFA)

This is an arrangement that law firms sometimes make to pay for your legal case. It means that you only pay for your lawyer's work if you win your case and you receive compensation.

If your claim is successful, you'll pay for your lawyer's costs, as well as an extra percentage of the compensation, called a 'premium'.

If your claim is unsuccessful, you won't have to pay for your lawyer's legal work.

Continuing healthcare (CHC)

This is a package of care for people who are not in hospital and have been assessed as having a 'primary health need' (this means that your main need must relate to your health). You don't have to pay anything for CHC – it's arranged and paid for by the NHS.


This is a finding by a court in Great Britain or overseas that you have committed a criminal act.

This will include findings of service disciplinary offences in the Court Martial if you are or were a member of the armed forces.

It will also include when you have been given a conditional discharge or an absolute discharge for an offence. You will have a conviction for an offence whether you pleaded guilty or were found guilty following a trial.

County court

This is a court which deals with civil (non–criminal) matters.  There are fees for starting a claim in the county court. However, if you have a low income, you may be able to pay a reduced amount, or none at all (called a ‘fee remission’).

Cases in the county court are in one of three tracks:

  • Small claims track is where the amount of compensation you are asking for is less than £10,000 and your case is not complicated.
  • Fast track is where your case is more complicated but can be finished in a one-day hearing
  • Multi-track is where the claim is complicated, and/or will take longer than a one-day hearing, and/or is for a larger sum of money.

Fast track and multi-track cases are costly and if you do not win your case, you usually have to pay the other person’s legal costs.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal deals with appeals from the Crown Court.

Court of Protection

The Court of Protection makes decisions and appoints deputies to act on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions about your personal health, finance or welfare.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.

Criminal record

This is a record of convictions held on the Police National Computer (PNC) for individuals convicted of crimes.

Crown Court

This is one of the two types of criminal courts. It is the higher of the two courts, above the Magistrates' Court.

Custody officer

This is the police officer who is in charge of running the police custody area. They are responsible for your care and welfare whilst in the station.



This is money awarded by a court to be paid as compensation for your loss or injury.

Data Protection Act 2018

The Data Protection Act 2018 is the law that sets out how organisations must handle and process your information. It also gives you rights to access and correct personal information held about you.

Data subject

This is the person to whom the information relates. If you want to access information held about you, then you are the data subject.

DBS certificate

This is the document issued following an application to the DBS for a criminal records check. It will contain the personal information you have provided and the result of the checks undertaken.

DBS check

This is a check of your criminal record carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service. It used to be called a 'CRB check'.

Debt relief order (DRO)

A debt relief order is a way for you to have your debts written off if you owe less than £15,000 and have less than £300 in assets. You don’t have to pay anything towards your debts for 12 months and your creditors can't chase you for what you owe them during this time. You can’t have a DRO if you own your own home.

Declaration of incompatibility

A court can make a declaration of incompatibility if it finds that a particular law has not obeyed the Human Rights Act 1998. The government then looks at the law and decides whether it should be changed.

Deprivation of liberty

A deprivation of liberty is where your liberty is taken away from you - that is, you are not free to leave and you are under continuous supervision and control. The Mental Capacity Act says that the law allows this only in very specific situations.

This may happen to you if you need to go into a care home or hospital to get care or treatment, but you don't have the capacity to make decisions about this yourself.

Deprivation of liberty safeguards (DOLS)

If you are in a hospital or care home, your liberty can normally only be taken away if health professionals use the procedures called the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards. This protects you from having your liberty taken away without good reason.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.


A deputy is a person the Court of Protection appoints to make decisions for you once you have lost capacity to make them yourself. A deputy usually makes decisions about finances and property. The court can appoint a deputy to take healthcare and personal care decisions, though this is relatively rare.


A person is detained if they are being kept in hospital under section and are not free to leave.

Diminished responsibility

If you are charged with murder, but can show that your mental health condition made you commit the crime, the court may convict you of manslaughter instead. This is called diminished responsibility.


'Disability' has a special legal meaning under the Equality Act, which is broader than the usual way you might understand the word. The Equality Act says that you have a disability if you have an impairment that is either physical or mental and the impairment has a substantial, adverse and long term effect on your normal daily activities.

Disability discrimination

When someone is treated worse because of their physical or mental health condition, this is known as 'disability discrimination'.

The Equality Act is the law that explains what a disability is, and when worse treatment counts as discrimination.

Generally, you have to show that you have a disability before you can challenge worse treatment as disability discrimination. The exceptions to this are if you received worse treatment because your employer thinks you're disabled but you're not, or because of your association with a disabled person.

See our pages on disability discrimination for more information.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

The DBS is the public agency responsible for:

  • Processing requests for criminal records checks, and
  • Deciding whether to place or remove people from the children’s barred list and adults’ barred list for England, Wales and Northern Ireland

The DBS replaced the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).


There are many situations in which you may feel treated unfairly because of your disability, but the law only covers these types of discrimination:

  • direct discrimination
  • discrimination arising from disability
  • indirect discrimination
  • harassment
  • victimisation
  • not complying with the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

In the UK, law that protects you from discrimination is called the Equality Act.


Displacement is where you change your nearest relative. The process of changing the nearest relative is often known as ‘displacement proceedings’.

Your nearest relative can be displaced if you or the local authority have concerns about the way that they are behaving.

See our pages on the nearest relative for more information.

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

This is a government department that maintains registers of drivers and vehicles in Great Britain.

Duty of care

This is the legal obligation of a person or organisation to act with the attention and caution that a reasonable person would while you’re in their care or using their services.

Duty solicitor

This is the solicitor or specialist legal adviser who will be available to give you advice at the time that you are taken to the police station. They are completely independent of the police and you do not have to pay for them to attend the police station. You are allowed to choose your own if you prefer.


Either-way offences

These include theft and handling stolen goods. Cases are heard in either the Magistrates' Court or Crown Court.

Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal decides disputes between employers and employees about employment rights. An Employment Tribunal is like a court but not always so formal.

Enduring power of attorney

Enduring powers of attorney have been replaced by lasting powers of attorney in England and Wales. However, they can still be used if they were made and signed before October 2007.

Enforcement notice

This is a document sent to an organisation by the Information Commissioner's Office setting out the action it needs to take to comply with its obligations under the Data Protection Act 2018. Failure to comply with an enforcement notice is a criminal offence which can result in a fine.

Enhanced DBS check

This is a check of your criminal record which will show details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings held on central police records (apart from protected convictions and cautions) plus additional information held on local police records that is reasonably considered relevant to the job in question.

Enhanced DBS with list check

This is a check of your criminal record which will show the same as an enhanced DBS check, but will also include a check of the Disclosure and Barring Service’s (DBS) children’s and adults’ barred lists. These are lists of individuals who are barred from working with children or vulnerable adults.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 is the law that protects you from discrimination and gives you the right to challenge it.

See our pages on disability discrimination for more information.

Escorted leave

This is where you are allowed to leave the ward accompanied by a member or members of the hospital staff. Your responsible clinician grants you permission to leave the ward under section 17 of the Mental Health Act.



Filtering is the process which identifies and removes protected convictions and cautions so they are no longer disclosed on a DBS certificate. Convictions and cautions are not 'wiped' from your record, they are simply not disclosed on the DBS certificate.

Final warning

These no longer exist, but were given to young people under the age of 18 if the police decided not to prosecute them and they had already received a reprimand for a previous offence.

They were also given for first offences that were too serious for a reprimand.

Formal patient

A formal patient is someone who is being detained in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act, and is therefore not free to leave.


General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR)

These regulations tell organisations how they can use your personal information. They also give you rights to access and correct personal information held about you.

Group 1 licence holders

This includes people who drive motor cars and motor cycles.

Group 2 licence holders

This includes people who drive large lorries and buses.


This is where someone called a 'guardian' is appointed instead of being sectioned and kept in hospital. Your guardian could be a person or a local authority.

You can only be placed under guardianship if it's necessary for your welfare or to protect other people. Your guardian has the power to make certain decisions about you and to make conditions that you will be asked to keep to, such as where you live.

Guardianship lasts for up to six months and can be renewed: initially for a further six months, and then for a year at a time. You can appeal to the Mental Health Tribunal once in each of these periods.

Guardianship order

This means that a guardian, usually the local authority, will be able to supervise you in the community and make you live at a particular place.



There's no legal definition of healthcare. However, the National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare says that a healthcare need is related to the treatment, control or prevention of a disease, illness, injury or disability, and the care or aftercare of a person with these needs.

Healthcare decisions

Healthcare decisions are made by people like GPs, nurses and hospital managers. These can include decisions like:

  • the information you've been given about your treatment
  • your discharge from hospital, or
  • how long you've waited for treatment.

Health record

A health record is any record of information relating to your physical or mental health that has been made by, or on behalf of, a health professional.


A hearing is a meeting at the court in front of the judge where decisions are made about your case.

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.

Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA)

In the UK, our human rights are protected by law. This law is called the Human Rights Act 1998.

See our pages on the Human Rights Act for more information.


Immediate care or control

This means that you are vulnerable because of your mental health problem and you need a level of care or control that you are not receiving in the public place to keep you safe and healthy.

Inaccurate data

Information that is incorrect or misleading as to any matter of fact.

Independent mental capacity advocate (IMCA)

An IMCA is a specially trained advocate who can help you if you do not have the capacity to make particular decisions. NHS bodies or local authorities must take an IMCA's views into account when making decisions that affect you if you have lost capacity. They are normally appointed by the local authority in England, and by local health boards or other NHS bodies in Wales. They must be independent people of integrity and good character with appropriate experience and training.

See our page on IMCAs for more information.

Independent mental health advocate (IMHA)

An IMHA is an advocate specially trained to help you find out your rights under the Mental Health Act 1983 and help you while you are detained. They can listen to what you want and speak for you.

In Wales, voluntary patients can also have an IMHA.

See our pages on IMHAs (England) and IMHAs (Wales) for more information.

Independent monitor

An independent body responsible for reviewing disputes from applicants regarding local police information disclosed on enhanced DBS certificates.

Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)

The IPCC oversees the police complaints system in England and Wales. You can contact them by visiting the IPCC website.

Indictable offences

These include very serious offences, like rape, manslaughter and murder. Cases are heard in the Crown Court.

Informal patient

This has the same meaning as voluntary patient.

Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)

The ICO is the independent body responsible for making sure that organisations comply with their obligations under the Data Protection Act 2018.

Insanity (legal defence)

If you committed a crime, but your mental health condition meant that you did not know what you were doing, or that what you were doing was wrong, you may be able to use the defence of 'insanity'. But even if you are successful with this defence, you will not necessarily be acquitted.

Integrated care boards (ICBs)

ICBs are part of the NHS and look after the health needs of people in their area. They plan and provide services and manage the NHS budget. Membership of each board varies but usually includes healthcare professionals and local authority representatives. ICBs were introduced in 2022 to replace clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).


Judicial review

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.


It might be lawful for a person or organisation to treat you unfavourably if they can show that:

  • there were valid intentions behind their action (such as ensuring the health and safety of others, or keeping up staff attendance so that their business can run properly), and
  • it was an appropriate action to take in the circumstance.

Legally this is called a 'justification'.

Whoever is deciding whether or not unfavourable treatment is justified needs to balance the needs of both sides carefully, which can be very complicated.


Lasting power of attorney

A lasting power of attorney is a legal document that lets you appoint someone, called an attorney, to make decisions for you.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.

Legal aid

Legal aid is financial support which can help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal.

You can find out more about legal aid on the UK government website. You can also contact Civil Legal Advice to find out whether you're eligible.

Letter before claim

A letter of claim (sometimes known as a 'letter before action') is a letter putting a person on notice that court proceedings may be brought against them.

Courts believe that bringing legal action should be a last resort and encourage people to resolve their disputes at an early stage by communicating with each other and trying to find a solution informally.

Liaison and Diversion

Liaison and Diversion services identify people who have mental health problems, a learning disability, substance misuse or other vulnerabilities when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system as suspects, defendants or offenders.

You should be assessed by someone from this service, who will:

  • provide an immediate recommendation on your needs
  • produce an assessment report that can be made available to criminal justice professionals
  • contact a broad range of services to try to put treatment for your other needs in place.

Limited right

Limited human rights can be restricted for specific reasons. Human rights can only be restricted if it is proportionate – that is, it must be for a fair and valid reason.

For example, the right to liberty (Article 5) is a limited right. A person can be detained by the state for many lawful reasons including prison, mental health grounds and other reasons listed in the Article.

Litigation friend

A litigation friend is someone who can take your place in legal proceedings, if you lack capacity to take part yourself. For example, the litigation friend could instruct solicitors on behalf of you, or speak to the judge directly on your behalf.

A litigation friend could be a family member, a friend, or the Official Solicitor.

Local Health Boards (LHBs)

These are organisations in the health service in Wales that have been set up to develop and provide health services based on the needs of the local community.

Local police records

These are police records, not held on the Police National Computer, containing non-conviction information.


Magistrates' Court

This is one of the two types of criminal courts. It is the lower of the two courts, below the Crown Court.

Manifestly unfounded or excessive

If you make a subject access request that is 'manifestly unfounded or excessive', the organisation can refuse or ask you to pay a fee. This could include where your request is for an unnecessarily large amount of information or is the same as a recent request you made.

Medical treatment

In the Mental Health Act, this means medical treatment that is used to relieve the signs and symptoms of your mental health condition, or to stop it from getting worse. It includes:

  • nursing
  • psychological intervention and specialist mental health habilitation (learning skills
  • rehabilitation (relearning skills)
  • care.

Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA)

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is the law that tells you what you can do to plan ahead in case you can't make decisions for yourself, how you can ask someone else to make decisions for you and who can make decisions for you if you haven't planned ahead.

See our pages on the Mental Capacity Act for more information.

Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice

The Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice explains how the Mental Capacity Act should be interpreted. It places certain legal duties on health and social care professionals, and offers general guidance and information to anyone caring for someone who may lack capacity.

Mental disorder

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.

Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA)

This is a law that applies to England and Wales which allows people to be detained in hospital (sectioned) if they have a mental health disorder and need treatment. You can only be kept in hospital if certain conditions are met.

See our pages on the Mental Health Act for more information.

Mental Health Act Administrator

The Mental Health Act Administrator works in the hospital and deals with collecting and keeping the section or community treatment order (CTO) papers safe. They make sure that procedures are followed – like making sure you are given the right information and arranging hearings.

Mental Health Act Code of Practice

This tells health professionals how they should follow the Mental Health Act. It is not law, so it cannot be enforced by going to court, but health professionals should follow it unless there is a good reason not to.

The Code covers some areas not specifically mentioned in the Mental Health Act, such as visiting rights and the use of seclusion.

If a health professional doesn’t follow the Code, you can make a complaint.

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.

Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010

This is a law that applies to Wales. It sets out the support that people living in Wales should receive from primary and secondary mental health services.


Nearest relative

The nearest relative is a family member who has certain responsibilities and powers if you are detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act. These include the right to information and to discharge in some situations.

The law sets out a list to decide who will be your nearest relative. This can sometimes be changed.

See our pages on the nearest relative for more information.

Needs assessment

This is the first stage in getting any social care. The local authority will assess your needs to gain a full picture of what kinds of care and support needs you have, and use this to make informed decisions about whether you're eligible for support.


In law, negligence is an act or failure to act (omission), that doesn't meet the level of appropriate care expected, which results in injury or loss.

If a doctor or health professional is negligent when giving you medical treatment, this is called 'clinical negligence'.

NHS Resolution

NHS Resolution is the part of the NHS which has been set up to deal with negligence claims. They defend claims brought against the NHS and share learning from claims to improve patient and staff safety in the future.

Not kept under proper control

This means that you are vulnerable because of your mental health problem, and you need a level of care or control that you are not receiving at the time of the warrant to keep you safe and healthy.


Occupational health

The job of an occupational health professional is to assess you to find out:

  • how your work impacts your health
  • if you're fit for the work you do
  • what adjustments may need to be made to support you at work.

Your employer can refer you to occupational health if you have a physical or mental health problem that is affecting your work or causing you to take time off sick, particularly if this is more than two or three weeks at once.

If you disagree with their assessment, it is important to seek advice.

Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)

This is the independent organisation that reviews individual complaints by students against universities. You have to try to sort out your discrimination complaint using the complaints procedure of the university before you can contact OIA.

Office of the Public Guardian (OPG)

The OPG helps people in England and Wales to stay in control of decisions about their health and finance, and make important decisions for others who cannot decide for themselves.

For example, they can:

  • make sure decisions made by the Court of Protection are enforced
  • register lasting powers of attorney
  • supervise deputies appointed by the Court
  • help attorneys and deputies carry out their duties
  • publish information and guidance about the Mental Capacity Act for families, carers, healthcare professionals and lawyers
  • publish forms for making a lasting power of attorney and applying to the Court of Protection
  • investigate concerns about the actions of attorneys and deputies.

Official solicitor

If you lack capacity to conduct legal proceedings for yourself, and decisions are being made for you in a court, the court may ask the Official Solicitor to take part in the proceedings. Their job is to make sure that your interests are protected during the proceedings.


An ombudsman is an official appointed to investigate someone's complaint against a company or organisation, especially a public authority. The ombudsman is independent of the NHS, providers of care, local authorities and the government.


PACE codes of practice

This is practical guidance about how the police should use their powers and follow the rules in Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 1984).

Parental responsibility

The rights and responsibilities that a parent has for a child. This might include making decisions about their upbringing and where they live. It is possible for people who are not parents of a child to get parental responsibility. For example, a grandparent or family member could be given parental responsibility by the court.


The Mental Health Act says that a patient is someone suffering or appearing to be suffering from mental disorder.

Personal information (or personal data)

Information which relates to you in such a way that you can be identified from the information. Personal information might be held on computers, in emails, printed out or in handwritten documents, or in photographic images, videos or audio recordings.

To find out more about your rights regarding your personal information, see our pages on my personal information.

Place of safety

This is a locally agreed place where the police may take you to be assessed. It's usually a hospital but can be your home. A police station should only be used in an emergency.


If you are charged with a crime and have to go to court, you will be asked whether or not you did the crime. This is known as 'entering a plea'.

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 1984)

This is the law that sets out the rules that police must follow when you are arrested about how they treat you.


'Premises' means buildings and land that goes with them (property), in which people live.

Primary care

This is often the first point of contact for people in need of healthcare. It's provided by professionals such as GPs, dentists and pharmacists.

Prohibited conduct

'Prohibited conduct' is the special term used in the Equality Act to cover behaviour that counts as unlawful. It covers discrimination, harassment, failure to make reasonable adjustments and victimisation.


Some human rights can be restricted. If they are restricted, it must be done in a ‘proportionate’ way. This means that it is appropriate and not excessive in the circumstances.

Protected characteristics

'Protected characteristics' is the name for the nine personal characteristics that are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act.

They are:

  • age
  • disability (this can include mental health problems)
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

See our pages on disability discrimination for more information.

Public authorities

These are organisations whose role is of a public nature. This includes:

  • police
  • NHS  hospitals and employees
  • local authorities and their employees
  • some nursing and personal care accommodation providers
  • prison staff
  • courts and tribunals, including Mental Health Tribunals
  • government departments and their employees
  • statutory bodies and their employees (for example the Information Commissioner’s Office).

Public functions

This means an act or activity taken by a public authority which is not a service. A public authority carries out a public function when it performs its particular legal duties and powers. Examples of public functions are licensing, planning and enforcement of parking.

Public authorities can get private companies or voluntary organisations to carry out their public functions. So for example, a private company that run prisons and takes prisoners into custody would be considered a private company carrying out a public function.

Public sector equality duty

This is the legal duty which public authorities like councils, NHS hospitals and government departments have to follow. It means they have to consider how their policies and practices affect people with protected characteristics, like people with mental health problems.

Private or voluntary organisations also have to follow the public sector equality duty when they carry out a public function on behalf of public authorities. For example, a private firm that is employed by a local council to collect council tax arrears needs to follow the public sector equality duty.


Qualified right

A qualified right can only be restricted when certain general conditions are met. This means your individual rights need to be balanced with the interests of the wider community.

An example of this would be the government restricting your right to freedom of expression (Article 10) if you are encouraging racial hatred.


Reasonable adjustments

These are changes that:

  • employers
  • organisations and people providing services and public functions
  • education providers like universities and colleges
  • managers of properties like landlords
  • clubs and associations

should make for you if you are at a major disadvantage because of your mental health problems and it is reasonable.

Examples of reasonable adjustments include:

  • making changes to the way things are organised or done
  • making changes to the built environment, or physical features like steps or doorways around you
  • providing aids and services for you.


This means that you can be returned to hospital. It applies to you if you're on section 17 leave, on a community treatment order (CTO) or have been conditionally discharged from hospital.

  • If you're on a CTO, you can be recalled for up to 72 hours if the responsible clinician thinks that:
    you need medical treatment in hospital for your mental disorder, and
  • there would be risk of harm to your health or safety or to others if you are not recalled.

You must meet both criteria.


This means removing the relevant information. It can be done by crossing through the relevant information with a black marker pen and then photocopying the document or by using a computerised programme specially designed for this purpose.


Under the Welsh complaints system Putting Things Right, an NHS body will investigate your claim and consider if you have the right to redress.

Redress can be:

  • an explanation
  • a written apology
  • a report on the action which has or will be taken to prevent similar incidents arising in future
  • an offer of financial compensation and/or remedial treatment.

Registered medical practitioner

A qualified doctor, for example a GP or psychiatrist.

Regulator (health and social care)

Health and social care regulators oversee the health and social care professions by regulating individual professionals.

These organisations are set up to protect the public so that whenever you see a health or social care professional, you can be confident that they are of a professional standard.

Released under investigation

After arrest, instead of releasing you on bail with conditions, the police can decide to release you under investigation (often referred to as 'RUI'). This is not the same as being released on bail, as you do not have any conditions and there is no date upon which you must return to the police station.

Being released under investigation does not mean that the police have decided to take no further action against you. It simply means that they are continuing their investigation.

Relevant person's representative (RPR)

This is someone who can support you in all matters connected to a Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards situation, like requesting a review of the deprivation of liberty and making an application to the Court of Protection. It can be someone like a family member (and often is). You can choose who you want it to be if you have the capacity to do so.

An RPR must be:

  • aged 18 or over
  • willing to be your RPR
  • able to keep in touch with you
  • physically well enough so that they can carry out their role
  • an independent person. This means they cannot be your professional or paid carer.


This means that you will go to prison until you go to court to have your case considered. Sometimes you can be remanded to hospital instead of prison.


This is the equivalent of a caution for young people aged under 18. These no longer exist. See also, final warning.

Responsible clinician (RC)

This is the mental health professional in charge of your care and treatment while you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

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.

Responsible organisation

This is an organisation registered with the DBS to submit basic checks through a web service. A responsible organisation is responsible for confirming your identity, that information supplied in the application for a basic check is accurate and that you have given your consent to submit the application. You can apply to a responsible organisation, or a prospective employer can apply to them.

The UK government website has a list of responsible organisations.

Restriction order or restriction direction

This is an order made by the court when it has made a hospital order under section 37 to put restrictions on your discharge, transfer or leave from hospital. The Secretary of State's consent must be obtained in order to do these. This means it will be harder to get discharged by the tribunal or you might have to comply with certain conditions.

It can only be made if it is necessary to protect the public from serious harm.


This is a legal definition which means that your community treatment order (CTO) has ended and that you are detained under the original section, for example section 3.



In social care, safeguarding means protecting your right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. Local authorities have duties under the law towards people who are experiencing or are at risk of abuse and neglect.

Safeguarding adults board

All local authorities must have a safeguarding adults board. Their purpose is to:

  • help and protect adults at risk in their areas
  • conduct safeguarding adult reviews.

A safeguarding adults board is made up of:

  • the local authority itself
  • the local clinical commissioning group
  • a senior police officer from the local constabulary.

Other people, such as GPs and members of user, advocacy or carers groups, can also be invited to attend some meetings.

Second Opinion Appointed Doctor (SOAD)

This is an independent doctor appointed by the Care Quality Commission in England or by the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales. You need his or her approval to be given or continue to be given certain forms of medical treatment under the Mental Health Act 1983.

See our pages on consent to treatment for more information.

Secondary care

These are healthcare services which generally will need a referral from a GP.

Examples of secondary mental health services include:

  • hospitals
  • community mental health teams (CMHTs)
  • early intervention for psychosis teams
  • assertive outreach teams.


Being 'sectioned' means that you are kept in hospital under the Mental Health Act. There are different types of sections, each with different rules to keep you in hospital. The length of time that you can be kept in hospital depends on which section you are detained under.

See our pages on sectioning for more information.

Section 17 leave

This is where your responsible clinician gives you permission to leave the ward or the hospital for short periods. They may ask you to keep to certain conditions, such as returning within a certain time.

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:

Section 12 approved doctor

This is a doctor trained and qualified in the use of the Mental Health Act, usually a psychiatrist. They may also be a responsible clinician, if the responsible clinician is a doctor.

Section 136

Under this section of the Mental Health Act, a police officer can take you to a place of safety if you're in a public area and it seems that you are suffering from a mental disorder and in need of immediate care or control.

See our pages on police and mental health for more information.


If you've been to court and have been found guilty, you will be given a sentence by the judge. This could be a range of sentences including a community sentence (like doing unpaid work), going to prison or going to hospital.

Service provider

This is an organisation or person that provides services to the public or a section of the public for payment or for free. It includes private companies, voluntary organisations and public authorities.


This includes services provided by:

  • local councils (for example, advice services, social work services and park and leisure services)
  • government departments (for example, prison education, job centres and court services)
  • charities (for example, information and advice services)
  • private companies and people (for example, hotels, restaurants, solicitors, accountants, telesales businesses, leisure centres, sports facilities, gas and electric companies, buses, trains, theatres and cinemas)
  • places of worship
  • GPs, hospitals and clinics.

Social care

There's no legal definition of social care. However, the National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare says that a social care need is focused on providing assistance with:

  • the activities of daily living
  • maintaining independence
  • social interaction, enabling you to play a fuller part in society
  • protecting you in vulnerable situations
  • helping you manage complex relationships
  • (in some circumstances) accessing a care home or other supported accommodation.

Social care decisions

Social care decisions are made by people like social workers, nurses or support workers. These can include decisions like:

  • how you have been assessed for social care
  • a refusal to provide a particular service in your area
  • inappropriate behaviour of staff in social service.

Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014

This is the law that governs social care in Wales. It sets out the local authorities’ duties in relation to assessing people’s needs and their eligibility for care and support (child and adult social care), including carers who need support.

Spent convictions or cautions

This is a conviction or caution that, after a period of time, can be treated as if it never existed and no longer needs to be disclosed in a basic DBS check.

Simple cautions become spent immediately at the moment they are issued, while conditional cautions become spent after three months.

Spent convictions and cautions may still be disclosed in standard or enhanced DBS checks.

Standard DBS check

This is a check of your criminal record which will show details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings held on central police records (apart from protected convictions and cautions).

Subject access request (SAR)

This is a written request to an organisation asking for details of the personal information they hold about you.

See our pages on accessing my personal information to find out more.

Summary offences

These include motor offences and minor assaults. Cases are heard in the Magistrates' Court.

Supervised community treatment (SCT)

You can be under supervised community treatment if you are put under a community treatment order (CTO).

For more information about what a CTO is, how it affects you and how you can change or end it, see our pages on CTOs.



If a court gives you an indeterminate sentence (one without a fixed time limit), or a life sentence, it will set a 'tariff' or 'minimum term'. This is the earliest date at which you could be released. The exception is where the court gives a 'whole life sentence' which doesn't have a tariff.

Tertiary care

Tertiary care is highly specialised healthcare treatment, such as secure forensic mental health services.

Trial of the facts

If the court decides that you are unfit to plead, it will have a trial of the facts instead of a full trial. The court's sentencing powers are different if you only have a trial of the facts.


Upper tribunal

This is a tribunal which handles appeals received from lower tribunals. It is not a specialist mental health tribunal.

You can appeal to it if the Mental Health Tribunal got a point of law wrong. In practice, it is rarely used in mental health.

Unfit to plead

A court may decide you're unfit to plead if it seems that you're not able to understand the court process or instruct a lawyer to represent you.

Unspent convictions or cautions

When a person is convicted of a crime, that conviction is considered to be irrelevant after a set amount of time (the rehabilitation period), except in very limited circumstances.

After the rehabilitation period for a conviction has lapsed, the conviction is referred to as 'spent'. This period of time varies according to the sentence received.

A conviction is described as 'unspent' if the rehabilitation period associated with it has not yet lapsed.

Simple cautions become spent immediately at the moment they are issued, while conditional cautions become spent after three months.


Voluntary patient

Voluntary patients, also known as 'informal patients', are people who are staying in a psychiatric hospital but are not detained under the Mental Health Act. If you are a voluntary patient, you should be able to come and go from the hospital within reason and discharge yourself if you decide to go home.

See our pages on voluntary patients for more information.

Vulnerable adult

A person is considered a 'vulnerable adult' if they:

  • are aged 18 or over
  • need community care services because of a disability, age or illness, and
  • are unable to take care of themselves or protect themselves against significant harm or exploitation.


Warned list

Quite often, especially in the Crown Court, you will not be given a fixed date for trial. Instead, your case will be put into what is known as a ‘warned list’. This means that you will be given a range of dates, and your trial could start on any day during this period.

arrow_upwardBack to Top