The right to liberty (Article 5) is a right that can be restricted in certain circumstances; perhaps to keep a person safe from harm, or to protect the wider community. Detaining a person under the Mental Health Act for their own safety, and so that they can receive treatment, is one such circumstance in which a person’s right to liberty might be restricted.  However, even when a person is detained in this way they have a right to certain information, including the reason(s) for their detention, and methods of challenging it.

A mental health hospital in a large UK city had an informal practice of sectioning people seeking asylum, who spoke little or no English, without the use of an interpreter. After participating in a BIHR training session, members of a user-led mental health befriending scheme at the hospital realised that this practice might be a cause for concern. By using human rights language members of the befriending scheme were able to successfully challenge and change what was happening at the hospital. The group spoke with staff at the hospital and explained that because the people being detained were unable to understand why, or how they might challenge their detention, their detention might be unlawful because it wasn’t meeting the safeguards set out in the right to liberty (Article 5). The group also spoke to staff about people’s right not to be discriminated against (Article 14), in this case on the grounds that they didn’t speak English.

With a little bit of accurate and easy to understand information about the Human Rights Act and the hospital’s duties to respect patient rights, the befriending group were able to work with staff to change the policy on interpreters. Now people seeking asylum who are detained have access to the same information as everyone else – a crucial safeguard for anyone with restrictions placed on their liberty.