With mental health becoming an ever-growing talking point within the public sphere, Deputy Current Affairs Editor Natalia Karolina Gawlas looks at the legislative gap between the Irish legislation and the International standards of Mental Health Law.

Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the “right to a standard of living,” which among its many entitlements includes the right to medical care and necessary social services, a standard that countries worldwide are expected to adhere to. The World Health Organisation has also declared that national governments are responsible for the mental and physical health of their citizens, a point for Ireland to take into consideration given the state’s current legislation concerning mental well-being. 


Unfortunately, Ireland’s Mental Health Act 2001 does not meet the requirements set by international human rights conventions, specifically when looking at the state’s current regulations concerning hospital admission procedures. The 2001 Act was introduced as a means to end the stigma attached to mental health, and its reform brought substantial change to existing Irish legislation. Unfortunately, it still lacks the substance necessary to ensure full compliance with international standards, as well as proper protection for its citizens. 


Despite the well-needed advancements that the 2001 Act ensured following the Mental Treatment Act 1945, a need for improvement still exists to ensure the future-proofing of mental health legislation in Ireland. As a result, an Expert Group gathered in 2014, in which a report detailing the reforms needed in the 2001 Act was published. While it may sound promising, this report follows one published in 2006 which also discussed shortcomings of the 2001 Act. Little was achieved as a result of the 2006 report, which negatively impacted Mental Health services nationwide and served as another compliance failure according to international standards. 


This begs the question, If the 2006 report failed, could the 2014 report actually deliver progress?


The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets out an international standard for States to follow when drafting legislation regarding mental health and persons with disabilities. Ireland signed up to the CRPD in 2007 but only ratified it in 2018, with ongoing amendments regarding hospital admissions still being proposed to improve current Irish legislation. 


The proposed amendments would certainly improve mental health legislation in Ireland, however, they may not be strong enough to future-proof mental health law in Ireland as what is necessary now might change in a decade. The key priority in amending mental health law is that it must meet International legislative standards and obligations. 


As Luke Mulligan expressed at the beginning of the 2014 review, there must be a balance achieved between a person’s right to autonomy and the need for protective measures to be enforced.


However, even though there exists extreme criticism of Irish mental health legislation, the government is very slowly bringing about reform in order to protect patients admitted to institutions for treatment. As of 2015, providing ElectroConvulsive Therapy and providing ongoing treatment beyond three months without consent is now unlawful. Additionally, as of 2018, involuntary detention under a renewal order cannot exceed a period of six months, and an involuntary patient has the opportunity to apply for a review of their detention after three months from the renewal order. 


These amendments allow for legislation concerning the hospital admission process to finally progress in Ireland. These changes are, however, small compared to those recommended in the 2014 report, which leaves a lot of work to be done for Ireland to be fully compliant with international standards. The recommendations made by the expert group in their 2014 report would allow for Ireland to adopt international conventions which would be a great improvement within the Irish jurisdiction. 


The 2014 report is not the perfect fix, but it is a step in the right direction. Future issues may arise following the implementation of all the necessary recommendations, but after all, such straightforwardness within the law is not particularly common. 


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