Involuntary Patient Assessment in Australia: A Mental Health or Public Health Response?

J Law Med. 2021 Dec;28(4):1035-1047.


Involuntary assessment relates to detaining and transporting a person at risk of harming themselves or others, and without their consent, to hospital for examination and treatment. State and Territory statutory authorities generally allow police, paramedics and/or health practitioners to initiate involuntary assessment. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, and to protect people from harming themselves or others in broader circumstances than mental illness alone, the Queensland government changed involuntary assessment powers. Instead of mental health legislation governing involuntary assessment in Queensland, this is now a public health function. Despite the best intentions, the public health legislation does not address some of the practical challenges of involuntary assessment for health practitioners. This article explores the evolution of involuntary assessment powers in Australia and considers the impacts of it becoming a public health power in Queensland.

Keywords: autonomy; emergency examination authority; involuntary assessment; mental health law; public health law.

MeSH terms

  • Allied Health Personnel
  • Australia
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Mental Health*
  • Public Health