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Centre for Health, Law, and Society Fifth Annual Symposium: Redrawing the Boundaries of Mental Health and Capacity Law

13 April 2022

The 2022 Centre for Health, Law, and Society symposium addressed some of the most challenging questions about mental health and capacity law reform. Bringing together a diverse range of practically-focused, socially-grounded, critical perspectives, the online event hosted speakers from the four corners of the UK and across disciplines to discuss and debate the future direction of mental health and capacity law reform.

The Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) virtual symposium, which took place on 9 March 2022, was opened by the centre’s co-directors, Professor Sheelagh McGuinness and Dr Oliver Quick.

The event explored wide-ranging questions about needs for mental health and capacity law reform across the UK, from amendments to account better for protections of liberty to outright reform efforts; discussions underpinned by better understanding of the voices of persons directly impacted by mental health and capacity laws, by developments in judicial understandings, and in changing socio-economic and socio-ethical positions.

The symposium’s keynote lecture was given by Dr Camillia Kong (Birkbeck College) in the event’s first session, ‘Judging mental capacity law’, chaired by Professor John Coggon, followed by a thoughtful response from Dr Lucy Series (Cardiff University).

Dr Kong’s lecture, ‘You bring to your work whatever you are: Empirical and Normative Insights from the Judging Values and Participation in Mental Capacity Law Project’, combined philosophical analysis with understandings based on interviews with legal practitioners and retired judges. The lecture explored how mental capacity laws aim to account for the place of values in personal decision-making, whilst leaving enormous scope—and ambiguity and uncertainty—about what this does and should mean in practice.

The second session, ‘Mental health and capacity law at the margins: Postgraduate Research Panel’ saw presentations from University of Bristol postgraduate research students Sophie Chester-Glynn, Mollie Cornell, Martha Scanlon and Bonnie Venter, chaired by Dr Aoife Finnerty and Professor Judy Laing. The depth and diversity of the presentations underpinned further the importance and reach of legal research to help address practical and policy challenges in mental capacity and mental health law.

Chaired by Professor McGuinness and Dr Quick, the final session ‘Mental health law in motion: Expert panel on mental health law review and reform’ included presentations from Professor Gavin Davidson (Queen’s University Belfast), Professor Judy Laing, and Professor Colin McKay (Edinburgh Napier University). The presentations and discussion highlighted the links and limits of achieving better social justice, and human rights protections, through law, and shed sharp light on the challenges of and for law reforms in this area, across the four nations of the UK.

Professor Judy Laing, who led the organisation of the symposium, said: “We're delighted to have hosted online such a stimulating event which attracted a lot of interest and showcased the Centre for Health, Law, and Society's research strengths in mental health and capacity law.  Our fifth annual symposium is reflective of our aims in the Centre to produce and engage with rigorous research on questions of health, ethics, and justice with real-world applicability.”

Further information

The Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) promotes cross-disciplinary and cross-sector perspectives on the impacts of law and governance on physical, mental and social wellbeing. Based within the University of Bristol Law School, the CHLS comprises leading scholars whose work focuses on wide-ranging practical areas from within and far beyond health care systems, including clinical medicine, reproductive care, mental health, social care, and public and global health.

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