1.3 The legal framework
In England and Wales mental health practice is governed by two main pieces of legislation. The Mental Health Act 1983/2007 provides the overarching law on how care and treatment is offered, with provision for individuals to be sectioned if necessary. This means they can be made to accept treatment against their will in some carefully regulated circumstances.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is used to ensure that vulnerable people, particularly older people who are unable to govern their own affairs, are not exploited or harmed. If this is the case, Power of Attorney can be made so that another person takes on the legal authority to act on behalf of that individual. This often happens when an older person develops dementia and can no longer make decisions; for example, to manage their finances or other everyday tasks. If you want to read more about the Mental Capacity Act, see Section 4 of this course, Positive risk-taking.
Scotland has its own mental health legislation: the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 2015. The Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 governs care and treatment in Northern Ireland.
It is worth noting that most people who use mental health services do so on an informal or voluntary basis, and are not obliged to accept treatment if they do not wish to do so.