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BASS Philosophy and Criminology

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Mental Health Law

Unit code LAWS30471
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Law
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


  1. Theories of mental disorder
  • What is a “mental disorder”? Anorexia? Personality disorder? Paedophilia? Learning disability?
  • UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Psychiatry, power and social control: examining the impact of psychiatry and mental health law on race and culture


  1. Compulsory Civil Commitment
  • The history of civil commitment legislation
  • What should be the goals of civil commitment:  risk avoidance? justice? promotion of future autonomy?
  • Compulsory detention under the Mental Health Act 1983: what is involved when someone is “sectioned”?
  • The role of health and social care professionals


  1. Compulsory Criminal Commitment
  • Mad or bad? Or both?
  • When is someone with mental disorder not responsible for their crime?
  • Diversion from the criminal justice system
  1. Treating those lacking mental capacity
  • How to determine whether someone is unable to make a decision
  • What is in their best interests?
  • How to plan ahead for incapacity
  • Protection from liability


  1. Treating Mental Disorder under the Mental Health Act 1983
  • Should the law allow doctors to forcibly treat, restrain, seclude and sedate detained patients?
  • Hazardous and irreversible treatments
  • Impact on human rights considerations


  1. Detention under the Mental Capacity Act 2005
  • The (not so?) great confinement after Cheshire West
  • The compliant, incapacitated patient
  • The liberty protection safeguards
  1. Community-based Supervision and Control
  • Choice and coercion in community settings
  • Leave of absence and the ‘long leash’
  • Community treatment orders
  • Guardianship


  1. Access to Justice
  • The role of the Mental Health Review Tribunal
  • The role of the Court of Protection
  • Judicial review and habeas corpus
  1. Rights to Mental Health Care
  • Accessing mental health support - the scale of the problem
  • Legal rights to care and support
  • Using the law to challenge inadequate care
  • How much has changed in light of the Human Rights Act 1998?


  • To introduce students to a range of philosophies and ideologies that underpin mental health legislation, past and present.
  • To facilitate students’ understanding of law and policy on mental health issues in England and Wales.
  • To encourage students to develop textual research skills.
  • To encourage students to work collaboratively with fellow peers.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Understand the scope and application of English mental health law and its relevance to a range of academic disciplines and emerging policy initiatives.
  • Examine the effectiveness of mental health law by reference to principles/philosophies from relevant disciplines (psychiatry, psychology, ethics, criminology, social policy). 
  • Articulate your knowledge in written and oral form.
  • Make effective use of a range of paper and electronic legal research tools to support your learning and research.

Teaching and learning methods

30 hours of lectures, five hours of (fortnightly) seminars and 10 hours of (weekly) direction and feedback drop in sessions. Students will undertake a series of exercises in both lectures and seminars that will build on their knowledge of mental health and develop their general intellectual skills. In particular, we are keen to support students to develop their problem solving, communication, leadership and group-working skills.

We will use a range of teaching strategies to make this possible, building our analysis and discussion of mental health law around a series of scenarios. Students will be encouraged to work on these in the course of seminars, lectures and via Blackboard, where discussion threads and ’blogs’ will also be available. We will encourage students to act as researchers, gathering new information on mental health law. We also support the use of video resources, many of which are currently available on Blackboard and some of which will be aired in the lectures.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

This course is assessed by two pieces of coursework of 2,500 words each.

Recommended reading

A free electronic book will be made available. In addition, we recommend Brenda Hale’s ‘Mental Health Law’.

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Neil Allen Unit coordinator

Additional notes


This course is available to students in the University of Manchester, provided they have some knowledge of law. For further details please contact

Pre-requisites:  Students who are not registered on the LL.B programmes must have some prior legal education that includes the basics of the English legal system, the Human Rights Act and judicial review..


see Law School undergraduate timetable page

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