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Mental health law is that area of law that deals with mental conditions. This includes areas in both common law and statute law.

Common law, which is based on case law rather than statutes, issues include such concepts as mens rea, insanity defences, sane and insane automatism amongst others.

Statute law usually takes the form of a Mental health act or equivalent. An example is the Mental Health Act 1983 in England and Wales. These acts codify aspects of the treatment of mental illness and provides rules and procedures to be followed and penalties for breaches. Mental health acts are largely used in the management of psychosis where a person has lost the ability to test reality. They may also be used for other conditions including personality disorders. The laws generally allow for compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital or in the community.

In some jurisdictions court orders are required for compulsory treatment while in others treating psychiatrists may treat compulsorily by following set procedures. In the latter case there are usually methods of appeal or regular scrutiny to ensure compliance with the law.

Not all countries have mental health acts. The world health report (2001) lists the following percentages by region for countries in those regions with and without mental health legislation.[1]

Regions With legislation No legislation
Africa 59% 41%
The Americas 73% 27%
Eastern Mediterranean 59% 41%
Europe 96% 4%
South-East Asia 67% 33%
Western Pacific 72% 28%


  1. ^ Presence of mental health policies and legislation, The World Health Report 2001, chap. 4, fig. 4.1 (accessed June 8, 2005).

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