The age of risk: Risk perception and determination following the Mental Health Act 2007

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Reforms to the mental health law framework for England and Wales, which were introduced by the Mental Health Act 2007, are now having a practical effect on day-to-day mental health decision-making. The 2007 Act amends the Mental Health Act 1983, which governs the compulsory hospitalisation and treatment of people with mental disorder; and represents the culmination of a protracted and controversial reform process which has spanned much of the last 15 years. One of the key foci in the 2007 Act is the question of the risk posed by the patient, primarily to others; a result of both the social and political impetus behind the reform process and mounting public anxiety at the management of the mentally disordered. The new Act seeks, as with past legislation, to find the elusive balance between protecting and facilitating the individual's autonomy while also providing an effective framework for the wider public right to protection. The 2007 Act solidifies the dominance of risk by providing a legitimating framework in which risk can be assessed, monitored, and managed. This attitudinal change is demonstrated by the gradual and almost insidious adoption of risk terminology within the practical decision-making setting and the increasing use of risk assessment and management tools. This article is informed by an empirical study which examined individual professional and institutional responses to the mental health legislation in relation to risk. It examines whether the amended legislative framework amplifies risk as an increasingly dominant concern within decision-making. The paper then goes on to consider how decision-makers use risk to assist with their daily roles. Extrapolated from data obtained through the study, several models of risk determination are then discussed. Finally, some thought is given to whether the extension of the risk concept has the potential to become more fundamental within the organisation and legitimisation of mental health care. © The Author [2011]. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfwr023
Pages (from-to)581-605
Number of pages24
JournalMedical Law Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


  • Decision-making processes
  • Mental Health Act
  • Risk


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