One of Britain’s top psychiatrists, Professor Simon Wessely, has stated that Theresa May’s ambition to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) could derail the Government’s promise to improve care and protection for mental health patients.
This argument has been triggered by the Conservative party promising to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, while Mrs May stated that the ECHR added nothing to the UK’s prosperity and could ‘bind the hands of Parliament’.
Professor Wessely criticised this policy by stating that this decision would remove legal mechanisms that had made ‘huge strides in closing the current gulf’ between physical and mental health support.
Previously, the Coalition government legislated for ‘parity of esteem’ between mental health and physical health services by 2020, outlining the importance of both. However, Professor Wessely warns that what the Conservatives are proposing would do quite the opposite.
He said that: “Both threaten to remove legal frameworks which have quietly been safeguarding and bolstering the rights of psychiatric service users for decades.
“If the Government is serious about parity of esteem – which it certainly professes to be – then neither May nor Gove’s proposal should be on, or anywhere near, the table.”
"The Human Rights Act places an obligation on courts and public authorities in the UK to act consistently with the rights enshrined in the ECHR, which itself has been a part of our law for over 60 years. For the UK resident, the ECHR and the HRA provide us with protection from the actions of the state including the rights to life; respect for private and family life; prohibition from torture; to a fair trial; to liberty and security and prohibition from discrimination. These are things that many people in the UK take for granted – they are how many people perceive things should be. From a mental health law perspective – these basic rights are protected for people who may not have the capacity to know whether they are being breached or not. As the cases brought in the UK demonstrate -they have been breached and there will continue to be breaches in the future. No one is immune from mental ill health and to have the protection enshrined in such a way is a huge safeguard."