Mental Health and Justice

What is this research?

Traditionally, the concept of mental capacity has been used in the UK justice system to determine who has certain legal rights and responsibilities and who can enter and transact legal relationships, which is often referred to as ‘legal capacity’. The law in England and Wales uses an approach called decision-making capacity (DMC), which concentrates on measuring ability for specific decisions rather than using a person’s diagnostic status. This legislation has been seen as morally progressive and is being increasingly adopted internationally. However, considerable work remains to both interpret and implement it.

Recently, debates about legal and mental capacity have been intensified by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD), which introduces ideas of universal legal capacity and support. While the CRPD’s implications for UK law are still being debated, it presents new and significant human rights challenges to clinical, legal and ethical approaches to mental health and justice. Some policy experts anticipate that these challenges will increase over the next decade, generating a need for a collaborative research framework which will help with the engagement of policy-makers.

This study will involve leading international clinical experts, lawyers, philosophers, neuroscientists and social scientists, who will engage via a research network. This network of experts will be led by a team from Kings College, London and funded by the Wellcome Trust. The study will focus on two areas, support in decision-making and decision-making ability. It is hoped that this study will help to build a framework which can deliver practical guidelines, policy engagement, advancement of interdisciplinary working and innovation in service-user involvement in research and public engagement.

Why is this research important?

The study plans to address the central dilemma in mental health, ethics and law, which stems from the tension between protecting and respecting a person’s decision making. As law in this area has a commitment to human rights and as international progress in the field happens, new challenges are arising and now is the time to take up this interdisciplinary challenge.

How are McPin and people with experience of mental health problems involved in this research?

The McPin Foundation will be involved in coordinating service-user involvement activities using a lived experience advisory panel (LEAP) of seven service-users, across the network of this project. The LEAP will assist in producing accessible resources aimed at the public.

What is the current status of the project?

The Mental Health and Justice Study finished in late 2022. As of January 2023 we are currently conducting some follow-up work on developing advance directives with Dr Tania Gergel which is funded by Kings College London.

Where can I find more information?

You can find out more about this research on the Mental Health and Justice website.

You can also view study updates by following the study group on twitter: @MHealthJustice

Alternatively, please contact Thomas Kabir or Anja Hollowell by email: | or phone: 0207 922 7874 for more information.