Mental health and the courts

Answers some of the common questions about mental health and the courts and explains the options available.

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Who would believe me?

Posted on 07/10/2013

Legal terminology

Legal terms are used as they appear in the Mental Health Act 1983 and other legislation. Some people find these terms inappropriate, even offensive, but they are used here for the sake of legal accuracy. To keep this guide as straightforward as possible, we have kept technical terms to a minimum and summarised the effects of the law and good practice, where appropriate. Where we use section numbers, they are from the Mental Health Act 1983. 


Release from custody, with or without conditions, under the strict duty that you must return at a specific time and date.

Care Quality Commission

The statutory body responsible for the welfare of detained patients in England.

Crown Court

Deals with more serious criminal cases, such as murder or robbery, some of which have been referred by the Magistrates’ courts (see below). Trials are heard by a judge and jury.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

Public office responsible for ensuring a prosecution is brought to court only if there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest.

Healthcare Inspectorate Wales

The mandatory body responsible for the welfare of detained patients in Wales.

Magistrates’ court

This type of court generally deals with more minor offences, referring more serious offences to the Crown Court (see above).

Medical treatment

Defined in section 145(4), in relation to 'mental disorder' in section 1 as 'medical treatment the purpose of which is to alleviate, or prevent a worsening of the disorder or one or more of its symptoms or manifestations'.

Mental disorder

Defined in section 1 of the Mental Health Act 1983, as now amended by the Mental Health Act 2007, as, 'any disorder or disability of the mind'. However, for the purposes of section 1, those with a 'learning disability' are only considered to have a 'mental disorder' if their disability is 'associated with abnormally aggressive or grossly irresponsible behaviour.'

Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983

The main Act of Parliament covering the care and treatment of people with mental health problems.

Mental Health Act 2007

An Act amending the Mental Health Act 1983.

Mental Health Act Code of Practice

The statutory Code guiding professionals in the use of the Mental Health Act 1983. 

Mental Health Tribunal

An independent panel that decides if a patient should remain subject to detention under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Ministry of Justice

Government department responsible for courts, prisons, probation services and attendance centres.

Registered medical practitioner

A qualified doctor; for example a GP or a psychiatrist.

Responsible clinician

The approved clinician with overall responsibility for the case of the patient. This person will not necessarily be a registered medical practitioner.

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