Lady Justice Brenda Hale
Sweet & Maxwell, 2010, £75
The mental health practitioner is now spoilt for choice when it comes to textbooks on this area of the law. We have a number of commentaries on the 2007 Act as well as the accepted bible on mental health law – Richard Jones’ Mental Health Act Manual. How does this book compare? At £75 for a 388-page paperback it is not cheap. It is written by an extremely distinguished former academic and current justice of the Supreme Court. The book has a long pedigree, stretching back to the 1970s when the first edition came out. Since then there has been major legislation, in 1983 and the recent amendment in 2007, as well as the related Mental Capacity Act.
Mental health law is not of course only for mental health lawyers. Other professionals and practitioners in related fields such as crime and family need to have access to basic information. Mental health law is increasingly becoming an option for study at first degree level, as part of specialist post-graduate degrees and professional exams. This book will be well received by academics.
The work is comprehensive and covers most, if not all, angles of mental health law including civil and contractual rights as well as the more obvious fields of hospital admission and criminal liability. Many of the assertions in the text, especially relating to tribunals, are based on very old evidence. For example, the statement about the legal member of the tribunal being the most influential on the panel is based on 1979 evidence. My concern is that the book has little new to say in an area of law teeming with new things. It is not written by a practitioner and in places it shows. It is now nearly two years since the new Mental Health Act came into force but the book does not really seize the opportunity to review how the new law is working.