European Ruling on Informal Admission to Hospital

A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights could mean that tens of thousands of people in Britain informally admitted to hospital are being illegally detained.

The Court was considering the case of “HL”, an autistic man who was detained as an ‘informal patient’ in a psychiatric hospital for nearly three months in 1997. Unable to speak and with a limited level of understanding, HL could neither consent nor object to medical treatment when he was admitted to the hospital, after he became agitated in a day-centre. As he was compliant, and could not be compulsorily sectioned under the Mental Health Act, he did not have the same rights as someone subject to section.

The Strasbourg Court of Human stated that it found striking: “the lack of any fixed procedural rules by which the admission and detention of compliant incapacitated patients was conducted. The contrast between this dearth of regulation and the extensive network of safeguards applicable to psychiatric committals covered by the 1983 Act was, in the Court’s view, significant.”

The Court ruling could affect a huge number of people who lack the ability to consent to or refuse treatment. The Government could be compelled to amend the mental capacity bill, and has been ordered to pay £20,000 in damages.

For more information on the European Court of Human Rights ruling, visit: