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Mental Health and Justice: protecting and respecting people's decisions


A new King’s College London project is addressing public policy challenges arising from mental health and its interaction with human rights.

The Mental Health and Justice initiative, funded by Wellcome, brings together clinical experts, lawyers, philosophers, neuroscientists, social scientists and service users to address two conflicting duties that often arise when mental health meets justice: the duty to protect people when they can be vulnerable and the duty to respect autonomy.

Project lead Dr Gareth Owen from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said: ‘Our research aims to take a fresh look at these conflicting duties, find novel solutions and a balance better fitted to contemporary life.

‘This five-year project comes at a time of considerable change. Domestically, the Mental Health Act is being reviewed and we are interpreting our Mental Capacity Act further and further. Internationally, the challenge presses of a radical reading of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which would appear to see no role for mental health law. It is also a time of a new social interest in mental health and new energy to tackle old stigmas and break down stale assumptions.’

Dr Owen added: ‘This is a strong interdisciplinary collaboration with research leads across three faculties at King’s – the IoPPN, the Dickson Poon School of Law and the faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, as well as collaborators from the University of Essex. Complex health, social, ethical and legal problems benefit from an approach which takes in all of these perspectives, and it is a privilege to lead a project where such excellent scholars are so dedicated to working toward achieving a better balance.’

To find out more about the project, visit the new website.