Prove It, Or Let Me Go

No. 44 of #50cases.

Being trapped somewhere you shouldn’t be. The ingredients for a nightmare, but this is real life.  H has schizophrenia, and he hears voices. He goes to a secure mental hospital, where he starts to recover.

The medicine alleviates his symptoms. But how can he ever get out of the hospital?  The law is against him: it says he is the one who must prove that he is now ‘of sound mind’.  How can you prove you have a sound mind if you had been living in a secure mental hospital for years, and been affected by mental health problems since childhood?  It is an almost impossible hurdle to leap and H faces the rest of his life in confinement.

Luckily, this is 2001 and human rights have just stepped on to the centre stage of our country’s mental health law. The judges say it is not fair that the patient has to prove he should be released.  They say it is the authorities who should prove the patient still poses a threat.  Thanks to the challenge brought by H, the law changed to give mentally ill patients greater protection of their human rights, including the right not to be locked up with the burden on them to prove their sanity.

This is one of nearly two hundred court cases in 2001 alone which challenged how patients with mental ill-health were being treated in this country, including the right to challenge treatment, to challenge detention and to enjoy a private and family life while in hospital.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here