When to inform relatives a mental health patient is sectioned

R (on the application of E) v Bristol City

In this case a woman (E) asked Social Services not to contact
her nearest relative if, in future, they decided that she should be
sectioned pursuant to the Mental Health Act 1983. There was
evidence that such an approach would cause her considerable
distress, and the High Court declared that it would be “not
reasonably practicable” and therefore unnecessary to consult
the nearest relative. It might interfere with her right to private
life under Article 8 of the ECHR were the consultation to take

In coming to this Judgment the High Court rejected the advice
contained in paragraph 2.16 of the Mental Health Act 1983 Code of
Practice that “Practicability refers to the availability of
the nearest relative and not to the appropriateness of informing or
consulting the person concerned.” This advice is no longer
correct and the Department of Health has issued guidance in the
light of this decision as to when it will be
“impracticable” for an Approved Social Worker to
consult a patient’s nearest relative.

The Department of Health guidance suggests that an ASW has to
conduct a balancing act when deciding whether or not it is
impracticable to consult a nearest relative. The ASW should
consider whether doing so would lead to a breach of the
patient’s rights under Article 8 of the ECHR (right to
respect for private and family life).

Practitioners are referred to the guidance at www.dh.gov.uk/PolicyAndGuidance.

Adam Hartrick
Hempson’s Solicitors

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