An international comparison of legal frameworks for supported and substitute decision-making in mental health services

Gavin Davidson, Lisa Brophy, Jim Campbell, Susan J. Farrell, Piers Gooding, Ann-Marie O'Brien

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There have been important recent developments in law, research, policy and practice relating to supporting people with decision-making impairments, in particular when a person’s wishes and preferences are unclear or inaccessible. A driver in this respect is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); the implications of the CRPD for policy and professional practices are currently debated. This article reviews and compares four legal frameworks for supported and substitute decision-making for people whose decision-making ability is impaired. In particular, it explores how these frameworks may apply to people with mental health problems. The four jurisdictions are: Ontario, Canada; Victoria, Australia; England and Wales, United Kingdom (UK); and Northern Ireland, UK. Comparisons and contrasts are made in the key areas of: the legal framework for supported and substitute decision-making; the criteria for intervention; the assessment process; the safeguards; and issues in practice. Thus Ontario has developed a relatively comprehensive, progressive and influential legal framework over the past thirty years but there remain concerns about the standardisation of decision-making ability assessments and how the laws work together. In Australia, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (2012) has recommended that the six different types of substitute decision-making under the three laws in that jurisdiction, need to be simplified, and integrated into a spectrum that includes supported decision-making. In England and Wales the Mental Capacity Act 2005 has a complex interface with mental health law. In Northern Ireland it is proposed to introduce a new Mental Capacity (Health, Welfare and Finance) Bill that will provide a unified structure for all substitute decision-making. The discussion will consider the key strengths and limitations of the approaches in each jurisdiction and identify possible ways that further progress can be made in law, policy and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-40
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Early online date28 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • Mental health law
  • Mental capacity
  • Decision-making
  • Guardianship


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