News from Belfast – the NI Mental Capacity Bill

I gave evidence with Caroline Bielanska, Phil Fennell, Julian Hughes, Wayne Martin and George Szmukler to the Ad Hoc Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly considering the Mental Capacity Bill introduced there on 8 June.   I was very honoured to have been invited, and very excited to have the chance to give my ten cents worth.  As I have written about previously, what is being undertaken in Northern Ireland is a truly ambitious piece of legislation which will, at one bound, catapult Northern Ireland far beyond England and Wales in terms of mental capacity legislation.   It will also put Northern Ireland ahead of any other jurisdiction in the world in terms of trying to work through mental health legislation which is strongly (if not exclusively) capacity-based.

I would urge anyone with the slightest interest in mental capacity or mental health law to take the time both to look at the Bill and to submit written evidence to the Ad Hoc Committee by 7 July.   I would, further, urge us all to see how the Bill unfolds and to keep our fingers crossed that the Assembly are in a position to conduct the necessary scrutiny so as to complete all the relevant legislative steps prior to the expiry of its mandate in March 2016 (and to keep reminding anyone who will listen that the passage of such legislation is only just the beginning…).

My particular interest is in the capacity aspects, and especially:

  1. How the Bill can be seen as building upon our mistakes and experiences in England and Wales with the MCA 2005, and whether, in turn, we can learn from the ‘MCA plus’ that appears in the Northern Bill for purposes of pushing legislative reform here;
  2. Whether it is possible to use the Bill to seek to bring about greater compliance with the CRPD in at least one part of the United Kingdom.

As some of you may know, I was involved in the fascinating Essex Autonomy Project work assessing the compatibility of the MCA with the CRPD.  I am also now part of the core research team expanding that work to cover the 3 jurisdictions of the United Kingdom.   As part of the early stages of that work, Wayne Martin from the EAP and I applied the wet towels and came up with a number of suggested amendments to the Bill.   They are designed both to build upon our combined experiences in different arenas trying to bring P into the heart of decision-making and to improve compliance with the CRPD.   These can be found here, and we would very much welcome suggestions or comments thereupon.   For those of you who may think this is all about a far-away piece of legislation about which we know little or nothing – think again.   Why should not wording such as this feature if and when we come (as we must) to revisit the MCA 2005?

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