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Legal criteria for involuntary mental health admission: clinician performance in recording grounds for decision

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In enacting mental health laws, parliaments empower doctors and other health professionals to detain patients and coercively administer treatment in defined circumstances. These laws have been informed by the United Nations Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care (1991).1 These principles include requirements that patients be treated in the least restrictive environment (principle 9), and that every effort be made to avoid involuntary admission (principle 15). Laws made in recent years also purport to give effect to the articles in the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.2 Australia is a signatory to this convention.

Principle 16 of the 1991 UN catalogue requires that, when involuntary admission occurs, the grounds of the admission be communicated to the patient without delay, and the fact of the admission and the grounds for admission be communicated to the patient’s personal representative, the patient’s family (unless the patient objects) and a legal review body.1

In South Australia, the grounds for involuntary admission were previously recorded on the initial detention form, as required by a regulation of the SA Mental Health Act 1993. The form had space for a brief statement of the grounds for detention. It…