A realistic approach to assessing mental health laws' compliance with the UNCRPD

Int J Law Psychiatry. 2015 May-Jun;40:70-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2015.04.003. Epub 2015 May 13.


This article argues that a more realistic view should be taken of the implications of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for mental health law than the view taken by the UN monitoring committee, in its General Comment on Equal Recognition Before the Law, in 2014. This more realistic interpretation would not forbid reliance on the concept of mental capacity in the law. Nor would it forbid legislation that authorises substitute decision-making or involuntary treatment. Less radical reforms, it is suggested, could promote Convention compliance. These reforms would shift mental health law away from reliance on over-broad concepts like "mental disorder" or "mental disability", but would still permit use of legal standards that rely on specific impairments in mental function that are relevant to a person's capacity to make particular decisions or perform specific tasks. Strong efforts would be required to promote supported decision-making, and respect advance directives, but substitute decision-making and treatment without consent would be permitted in exceptional circumstances, subject to appropriate safeguards and independent review. Under this interpretation, those measures would not constitute discrimination in the law on the ground of disability, or denial of equal recognition before the law. This approach, it is argued, is more likely to generate positive responses from state parties in terms of law reform.

Keywords: CRPD; Capacity; Discrimination; Involuntary treatment; Mental health legislation.

MeSH terms

  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Decision Making
  • Disabled Persons / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Human Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Mental Competency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Prejudice / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United Nations