A young Afro-Caribbean man in a London mental health hospital was repeatedly told by nurses that he could not leave the ward, even though as an informal patient he was entitled to do so. When blocking his efforts to visit family and friends, the nurses did not invoke holding powers under the Mental Health Act and Code of Practice. Instead they had merely told him that it was not in his interests to leave the hospital.
The man’s advocate made a written complaint on his behalf arguing that staff in the hospital were breaching the man’s right to liberty (Article 5 ECHR) protected under the Human Rights Act.
The right to liberty and security of person is a non-absolute right which means it can be limited by allowing the detention of people in certain circumstances. This includes detaining people with mental health problems but there are strict procedures that must be followed, including the detention being authorised by a lawful order. In the UK this is often referred to as being ‘sectioned’ under the Mental Health Act. However, in this case the young man was an informal patient, which means he was there voluntarily. As there was no legal order detaining him in the hospital, he was in fact able to leave at any time. The staff telling him that he had to stay therefore breached his right to liberty.
Following the actions of his advocate the man’s treatment by the hospital staff greatly improved and he was permitted to leave when he wanted to. He was discharged from hospital soon afterwards.
Cambridge House provides advocacy services to people in 14 London boroughs. Our aim is to enable people to become and remain central to the decisions that are made about their life. We encourage and enable people to speak on behalf of themselves, ensuring that their needs are considered, their rights are respected and they receive what they are entitled to.