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Health Soc Care Community. 2019 Jul;27(4):e494-e513. doi: 10.1111/hsc.12749. Epub 2019 Apr 16.

Are mental health tribunals operating in accordance with international human rights standards? A systematic review of the international literature.

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School of Health and Social Care, Centre for Mental Health and Capacity Law, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK.
School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queens University Belfast, Belfast, UK.


Mental health tribunals are responsible for making decisions about compulsory treatment for individuals considered a risk to themselves and others due to mental disorder. They are generally designed to provide safeguards for individuals subject to compulsory treatment by testing whether national legislative criteria and international human rights standards have been met. Despite this, they have been criticised for being dominated by the medical domain, focusing rigidly on legal criteria and for restricting human rights, including the rights to liberty and access to justice. As a result, questions have arisen over the extent to which mental health tribunals are indeed operating in line with their legislative intentions and international human rights requirements. The aim of this systematic review was to synthesise international evidence on this and to assess the extent to which this is reflected in such literature. A systematic search of the literature was conducted on the 17 April 2018 for articles published between 2000 and 2018 in MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsychINFO, ASSIA and Web of Science. All study designs were included within this review, provided they reported empirical findings. Thirty-two studies met the inclusion criteria. Eight themes were identified across the literature and these were participation, information and understanding, patient representation, the power of the medical domain, feelings of powerlessness, perceptions of fairness, risk and the impact on relationships. The findings call into question whether mental health tribunals necessarily operate in compliance with international human rights standards. This article suggests that mental health tribunals may need to do more to safeguard legislative principles and human rights standards that promote patient autonomy.


human rights; mental health; mental health act; systematic reviews


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