Understanding mental capacity
Understanding mental capacity

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1 How the law developed

The legislation that applies specifically to mental capacity is relatively recent. Previously these matters were dealt with through various pieces of legislation and guidance rather than through specific mental capacity legislation.

The law relating to capacity has come about at different times in each of the UK nations. Each act has a slightly different title and date. The first of the acts to be implemented was in Scotland. It is called the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 and came into force in that year. In England and Wales, the title changed while under development to refer to ‘capacity’ rather than ‘incapacity’; the Mental Capacity Act 2005 was implemented in 2007. The most recent act is the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.

Differences in implementation are partly a result of devolution. However, one of the most important differences is that in England, Wales and Scotland a separate mental health act has been retained and a new capacity act added, while in Northern Ireland the acts relating to both have been joined.

The following timeline provides a summary of the major developments in the law regarding mental capacity since the 1990s in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You will be introduced to key points in the timeline as you continue working through this course.

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Figure 1 Major developments in the law regarding mental capacity since the 1990s in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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