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

9 March 2022, 2.00 PM - 9 March 2022, 5.00 PM


Across the four nations of the UK, the boundaries of mental health and mental capacity law are in a state of flux. They are pushed by arguments about needs for legislative reform: from amendments to account better for protections of liberty to outright reform efforts; for example towards a ‘fusion’ model that takes us beyond having separate (if overlapping) systems for mental health and mental capacity law.

The urgency of these questions is 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.

This 2022 Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) symposium opens up and addresses some of the most challenging questions about mental health and capacity law reform.

We are looking at wide ranging questions, practical areas, methods of understanding and analysis, and methods of reform; of law and of practice. In keeping with the traditions of CHLS, the symposium brings academic rigour and diversity as well as practically-oriented, socially-grounded perspectives. We are delighted to host online speakers across a range of disciplinary perspectives and from the four corners of the UK to discuss and debate the future direction of domestic mental health and capacity law reform.

Please register for the event via Eventbrite 

Symposium outline

Key note lecture by Dr Camillia Kong, Birkbeck College: ‘You bring to your work whatever you are: Empirical and Normative Insights from the Judging Values and Participation in Mental Capacity Law Project’. Followed by a response from Dr Lucy Series, Cardiff University.

Sophie Chester-Glynn, University of Bristol: ‘Mental disability, the law and ‘the Other’: reassessing the effects of mental health and mental capacity law through a postcolonial critical lens’

Mollie Cornell, University of Bristol: Mental Health and Capacity Law: What Can Philosophy Teach Us?’

Martha Scanlon, University of Bristol: ‘Rethinking adolescent mental health law’

Bonnie Venter, University of Bristol: Share Your Spare: Revisiting Mental Capacity and Living Kidney Donation’

  • 16:00-16:55: Session 3: Mental health law in motion: Expert panel on mental health law review and reform. Chaired by Professor Sheelagh McGuinness / Dr Oliver Quick

Professor Gavin Davidson, Queen’s University Belfast: ‘The development and implementation of a non-discriminatory legal framework for Northern Ireland’

Professor Judy Laing, University of Bristol: ‘More rights, fewer wrongs? Where are we now with mental health law reform in England and Wales?

Professor Colin McKay, Edinburgh Napier University: ‘Beyond Compulsion – reform of mental health and capacity law in Scotland’ 

  • 16:55 - 17:00: Close. Professor Sheelagh McGuinness/Dr Oliver Quick


About the speakers:

Mollie Cornell is a PhD candidate at the University of Bristol Law School whose research focuses on the law and philosophy of mental health. She is interested in the philosophical assumptions about mind, personhood and the self that underpin UK mental health laws, specifically in how we conceptualize consent and decision-making.  Her research considers whether these laws could be re-framed to better protect the welfare and dignity of mental health patients. She read Law and Languages at the University of Cambridge and completed her LLM in Medical Law at Queen Mary, University of London before commencing her PhD in 2019. 

Sophie Chester-Glynn is a PhD student at the University of Bristol Law School. Her research considers whether concepts of ‘othering’ might affect the implementation and application of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and Mental Health Act 1983. As part of her research she aims to draw from postcolonial theories. Sophie has worked in social care for many years and has an interest on how the development and application of law and policy affects people with disabilities.

Professor Gavin Davidson qualified as a social worker in 1995 and worked for 12 years in mental health services in Northern Ireland, including as an Approved Social Worker. He moved to Queen’s University Belfast in 2008 and his research is mainly in the area of mental health, specifically: the effectiveness of mental health services; the social determinants of mental health; human rights and mental health/mental capacity legislation; and the associations between trauma and mental health. In 2018 he was appointed as the first Praxis Chair of Social Care at Queen’s and many of his research projects are in partnership with Praxis, a service provider for people with mental health problems, intellectual disabilities and autism. He is one of the social work representatives on the Department of Health's Reference Group for the development and implementation of the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. 

Dr Camillia Kong is Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded project, Judging Values and Participation in Mental Capacity Law and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, Birkbeck College.  She is a moral and political philosopher with research expertise on medico-legal conceptualisation of mental capacity, the ethics of psychiatry and psychiatric genomics, and the hermeneutics and phenomenology of mental disorder.  She has particular interest in intersections between Western and African normative thought and practice in approaches to mental disorder and intellectual disability.  Other areas of Camillia’s work explore how relational and gender contexts impact the development of selfhood and mental disorder, particularly around the phenomena of self-harm. 

Professor Judy Laing holds a chair in mental health law, rights and policy at the University of Bristol Law School. She has longstanding interest and expertise in mental health law, with a particular focus on the relationship between mental health and human rights.  She has published extensively on aspects of mental health law and holds several editorial positions with medico-legal academic journals. She is currently undertaking a parliamentary academic fellowship working with the Social Policy team in the House of Commons Library on mental health law reform. Judy is also member of the Care Quality Commission’s External Advisory Group on Monitoring the Mental Health Act and was a founding co-director of the Centre for Health, Law & Society at Bristol Law School in 2017.

Professor Colin McKay joined the Centre for Mental Health and Capacity Law as a Professor at Edinburgh Napier University in 2020. He is a member of the Executive of the review of Scottish mental health law chaired by John Scott QC. He is also the Chair of JustRight Scotland, a human rights law centre, and a member of the Mental Health and Disability Committee of the Law Society of Scotland. From 2014 to 2020 he was Chief Executive of the Mental Welfare Commission. The Commission protects the human rights of people with mental illness, learning disabilities, dementia and related conditions, and oversees mental health and incapacity law in Scotland. Previously Colin worked in the Scottish Government for 14 years, including on mental health law reform as secretary to the Millan Committee and Bill manager for the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003. Before that he was a solicitor, and spent 10 years with ENABLE Scotland, Scotland’s leading learning disability charity.

Martha Scanlon is a PhD Candidate at the University of Bristol Law School. She is researching adolescent mental health law in England. Her PhD research (Who Decides?) aims to investigate how practitioners navigate the legal framework governing decision-making about admission and treatment of children and young people in inpatient mental health facilities, with a view to informing future law and policy reform in this area. She studied Law at the University of Bristol and completed the Health, Law and Society LLM.

Dr Lucy Series is a senior research fellow and lecturer in law at the School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University.  Her research explores how law constructs and shapes caregiving relationships, particularly in ‘community’ settings.  She is currently researching problems of empowerment under mental capacity law for a Wellcome fellowship. She is currently researching problems of empowerment under mental capacity law for a Wellcome fellowship, and her forthcoming monograph – Deprivation of Liberty in the Shadows of the Institution – will explore the new and paradoxical phenomenon of social care detention.

Bonnie Venter is a PhD candidate and research associate at the University of Bristol Law School. Her PhD research is based on an empirically-informed evaluation of the living kidney donor assessment process in England and Wales. The psychosocial assessment of the living donor is a specific area of focus within her project. She has published on various issues relating to organ donation and transplantation within the UK and South African context.

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