22nd April 2020

Ben Hoare Bell LLP Partner Andrea Sellers explains the process of being sectioned under the Mental Health Act and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.


What does it mean if you are “sectioned”?

When people are “sectioned”, this means that they are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.  Being “sectioned” usually refers to them being required to stay in hospital for a period of either 28 days for assessment, or minimum periods of 6 months for medical treatment.  People can only be detained under the Mental Health Act if two doctors (one of whom is a specialist psychiatrist) and a social worker who is trained to deal with mental health work all agree that they need to be detained in hospital, and there is no reasonable alternative to that.

Has there been any changes to the sectioning process since the COVID 19 pandemic?

Emergency legislation has been introduced by the government which includes temporary measures to change the Mental Health Act.

Usually 3 professionals must agree that a patient needs to be detained, as explained in the previous question. Under the new legislation the number of doctors needed to agree to the detention is reduced to 1. However, the reason for the decision to detain a patient on the recommendation of only 1 doctor must be recorded in writing. Additionally, the reason must be related to staff shortages caused by coronavirus which means it would take too long for a second doctor to assess the patient.

How can you be released from a section?

People can be released from their section by their own consultant psychiatrist at any time.  Detained patients also have a right to appeal to an independent legal body called the Mental Health Tribunal, and the Tribunal has the power to order that a patient be discharged (even if their own consultant disagrees) after a hearing.  At these hearings, there is a thorough investigation of the patient’s current mental health, and what risks they could present to either themselves or to others if discharged.

How are tribunal hearings being heard during the Coronavirus pandemic?

There have been temporary changes made to the tribunal rules while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing.

The main change is that tribunals are no longer taking place as face to face hearings. All tribunals are now being completed by either video conference hearings or telephone conference hearings.

All patient’s detained under the Mental Health Act will automatically receive free legal aid in order to see a solicitor and to discuss appealing to a Tribunal.

Blog by Andrea Sellers, Partner