Mental health lawyers are expressing relief that the Lord Chancellor has finally announced action on mental incapacity law – they say he has been dragging his feet on the issue for far too long.
The Government last week published a consultation paper seeking views on the draft Hague Convention on the Protection of Adults, which will provide protection for mentally ill people and their property from September this year.
Lord Irvine says it is “desirable that there should be clear rules of international law to improve people's protection if they become mentally incapable of looking after themselves or their affairs”.
Peter Edwards, Director of the Institute of Mental Health Law, says that any action, even on international rather than British law, is welcome.
“It is a terrible mess, the law – it is a charter for abuse at the moment,” Edwards says.
He says that the Government released a consultation document on mental health law reform, titled Who Decides?, over a year ago.
Since then the issue has “died a death” despite the Lord Chancellor Department's assertion in the consultation document that there is a “clear need” for new law.
“This needs to be seen in the context that the Law Commission started their exercise in reviewing this area of law in 1989. That's 10 years to get nowhere. The last I heard from the LCD was that they weren't sure they would be able to find any parliamentary time for this,” says Edwards.