Book Review: “Mental Health Law” (6th edition)

Mental Health Law (6th edition) (Brenda Hale (Baroness Hale of Richmond) with Penelope Gorman, Rachel Barrett and Jessica Jones, Sweet & Maxwell, 2017, paperback, £85.00)

The new edition of Lady Hale’s seminal textbook has been eagerly awaited for quite some time now.  Though, as Lady Hale notes in her introduction, it represents an update rather than a complete rewrite of the nature of the 5th edition (in 2010), the book nonetheless represents a unique opportunity to see the state of mental health law through the eyes of the Deputy President of the highest court in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the book does a lot more than that, and my only substantial complaint about is that its title radically undersells it.  Written with the assistance of Lady Hale’s long-standing judicial assistant Penelope Gorman and two recent judicial assistants, Rachel Barrett and Jessica Jones, the book provides clear, comprehensive and authoritative coverage of the provisions of the MHA 1983 as of January 2017. However, its focus is almost equally upon the provisions of the MCA 2005, for which Lady Hale bears such prime-moving responsibility.  For my part, I regret not just the fact that the book undersells itself but also the (inadvertent) suggestion that mental capacity law is simply an offshoot of mental health law.  Of course, though, by the time of the next edition, it may be that there is no longer any distinction between mental health law and mental capacity law, and Lady Hale toys tantalisingly with the idea of fusion in chapter 2.

Indeed, it is a characteristic of this book that there are repeated and fascinating hints of where Lady Hale envisages the law might go, although obviously phrased with suitable caution given her judicial role.  Examples include her observations on the obligations imposed by the CRPD in chapter 1, and her tantalising suggestions in Chapter 3 that a rebalancing of parental versus children’s rights in the context of medical treatment is perhaps overdue.  I strongly anticipate that passages from the work may well feature in skeleton arguments before appellate courts in the near future.

It would, however, be entirely wrong to give the idea that this book is solely for practising lawyers seeking to run clever arguments.  Rather, it will be of enormous use and interest to all those seeking a clear guide not just to the complex statutory provisions governing mental health and mental capacity level, but an explanation of why and how of the laws in this area have come to take the shape they have.  I cannot, for instance, think of a better single text to use to introduce students to this area.

A final thought – if the same gap, 7 years, exists between this edition and the next, will the 7th edition represent an update, or will have the legal landscape have changed sufficiently that an entire rewrite will be required?  It would, of course, be an edition written from the perspective of a retired Supreme Court judge, but there is plenty of time before Lady Hale retires for her to continue to shape the law in this area…


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