Catalogue description Ministry of Health: Mental Health Act 1959 General Policy, Registered Files (95,200 Series)

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Details of MH 140
Reference: MH 140
Title: Ministry of Health: Mental Health Act 1959 General Policy, Registered Files (95,200 Series)

This series consists of policy files from the Ministry of Health's 90,000 series dealing with the introduction of the Mental Health Act 1959. It includes files on the Mental Health Review Tribunals and working papers and final report of the Special Hospitals Working Party.

Date: 1958-1966
Related material:

See also Division within MH

For records of the Royal Commission on the Law Relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency see MH 121

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Former reference in its original department: 95,200 file series
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Ministry of Health, 1919-1968

Physical description: 73 file(s)
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Administrative / biographical background:

The Mental Health Act 1959 came about as a result of the deliberations of the Royal Commission on the Law Relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency, 1954-1957. The legislation the Commission had been examining, primarily the Lunacy and Mental Treatment Acts 1890-1930 and the Mental Deficiency Acts 1913-1938, no longer reflected modern attitudes as shown by the Commission's recommendations for change.

The main principles on which the 1959 Act was based were:

  • 1. That such treatment as possible, both in hospital and outside, should be given on a voluntary and informal basis.
  • 2. That proper provision should be made for the residual category of cases where compulsion was necessary, either in the interests of the patient, or in the interests of society.
  • 3. That the Act as a whole should be seen against the background of the desirability of shifting the emphasis in mental cases as far as possible from institutional care to care within the community.

The Act came into force on 1 November 1960 and repealed all earlier Acts. It broke down the sharp distinction between patients by the use of one term "mental disorder", removed statutory control from the vast majority of mentally disordered persons, provided a balanced system for the protection and control of the remaining small minority, and made voluntary admission to hospital part of the normal course of events. It also ensured that mentally disordered persons could benefit from general health and social service facilities by providing that existing legislation should apply to them, to sweep away the idea that mental patients are any different from any other types of sick people.

As a safeguard for patients against unjustified detention in hospital, or under guardianship, the Royal Commission recommended that cases should be subject to review from both a medical and non-medical point of view by some strong, local, independent body with the power of discharge, by way of an "independent investigation into the justification for the use of compulsion". The Commission proposed that such a review should be provided by a tribunal consisting of members selected from a panel of suitable people appointed for each health region. The Act dissolved the Board of Control and established Mental Health Review Tribunals (MHRTs), the procedures to be followed by the tribunals being laid down by the Lord Chancellor in the Mental Health Review Tribunal Rules 1960.

In early 1959, the Minister of Health appointed the Special Hospitals [Broadmoor, Rampton, Moss Side] Working Party to consider the role of the special hospitals and the series of patients to be treated in them, having regard to the new mental health legislation and to the provision to be made by the hospital service generally.

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