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Title: Risk and the Mental Health Act 2007 : jeopardising liberty, facilitating control?
Author: Fanning, John
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2013
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This Ph.D thesis evaluates the impact of the concept of risk on mental health law and policy in England following the introduction of the Mental Health Act 2007, which amended the Mental Health Act 1983. First, the thesis investigates the role played by risk as the principal policy driver of the 2007 Act, arguing that the concept’s renewed significance heralds an era of ‘New Medicalism’ in which the law’s determinative power is reduced in order to foster a greater responsiveness to patients’ risks. Secondly, it argues that the works of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens, which popularised the ‘Risk Society’ perspective, and Michel Foucault, who developed the ‘Governmentality’ thesis, help to illuminate the prevailing trends in mental health policy in the 21st Century. The author contends that Foucault’s Governmentality thesis may provide the theoretical foundation on which the concept of risk was deployed by the policy-makers who shaped the 2007 Act. Thirdly, the thesis discusses the reason why risk is such a difficult concept to understand from a legal point of view. It shows that risk-based statutory provisions have the potential to undermine certainty in decision-making processes and notionally make it difficult for patients to predict the nature and extent of their engagement with mental health services. It also demonstrates that risk is a problematic concept for the courts, which have preferred to leave it as a matter of fact. Fourthly, and as a corollary, the thesis hypothesises that because of the greater prominence given to risk there is now more control of, and less liberty for, patients with mental disorder following the introduction of the 2007 Act. To test this, the author draws upon literature examining the current state of play in mental health practice, the legal oversight of psychiatric decision-making, and the significance of law reform on mental health practice. He finds that in fact the law is rarely determinative of mental health decision-making and that legislative changes do not fundamentally alter the functioning of the compulsory powers. As a result, there is no evidence to suggest that the 2007 Act has jeopardised patients’ liberty whilst facilitating greater control over them. For that reason, the final chapter offers a defence of the concept of risk in mental health law. It argues that while the law can never achieve certainty, the concept’s inclusion reflects the realities of mental health practice and allows decision-makers to operate according to their training and expertise. This chapter argues that mental health practitioners possess a level of knowledge and understanding of risk which defies objective explication. While mental health policy may be shaped by the desire to control deviance and the law may be drafted to accomplish that end, the reality is that practitioners invariably achieve the ‘right’ outcome notwithstanding legal and policy uncertainties. The thesis concludes that the 2007 Act has aligned the law with the realities of mental health practice and, for that reason, has not directly jeopardised liberty.
Supervisor: Case, Paula; Mythen, Gabe Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: KD England and Wales