Explains what a nearest relative is, including what powers and rights they have and how you can change your nearest relative.
Your nearest relative has the right to be told certain information about your mental health. This includes:
Your nearest relative may not be informed if:
If you are going to be sectioned, staying in hospital or discharged from hospital, you have the right to say that you do not want information about your care or treatment to be passed on to your nearest relative. You can do this even if you have not gone to court to replace your nearest relative.
For example, normally the hospital managers must tell your nearest relative when you are due to be discharged, but if you give instructions that they should not tell your nearest relative this or share other information about you, they should respect your wishes.
However, there must be very good reasons why you don't want your nearest relative to be told information about you. This is because the nearest relative can object to you being put on a section 3, which is an important power that no-one else has, so they could prevent you from being detained. This is balancing your Article 5 and Article 8 rights of the Human Rights Act. For more information see our pages on the Human Rights Act 1998.
It is important that you let your team know if you do not want your nearest relative to be told information about you.
Hari has a history of being physically abused as a child. His father went to prison because of it and they do not have any contact.
Hari is under section and will be going home in a few days' time. He lives in a flat, which he shares with his friends.
He is told that his father, as his nearest relative, should normally be informed when Hari is going to be discharged from hospital because it is the duty of the hospital managers to do this.
Hari says that he absolutely does not want his father to be told this or any other information about him. The hospital should respect his wishes.
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.See our full list of legal terms.
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.See our full list of legal terms.
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.See our full list of legal terms.
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.See our full list of legal terms.
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.See our full list of legal terms.
This information was published in November 2020. We will revise it in 2022.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.