Following an unsuccessful application to the House of Lords, Colonel Munjaz (a patient detained under the Mental Health Act 1983) challenged the legality of Ashworth Hospital’s seclusion policy on the grounds that it violated his human rights as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The House of Lords (2005 UKHL 58) had previously rejected the human rights arguments advanced by Munjaz and held by a majority that the Mental Health Act Code of Practice could be departed from if there were cogent reasons for doing so.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) considered arguments in relation to Article 3 (prohibition against torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life).
In considering Article 3, the ECtHR concluded that there was no evidence to support the argument that the less intensive frequency of full medical (multi-disciplinary) reviews during the period of seclusion placed the patient at real risk of ill treatment.
Munjaz also argued that seclusion amounted to a further deprivation of liberty (above and beyond his detention under the Mental Health Act 1983) with no right of review or appeal to an independent body. The court found that whether a further deprivation of liberty existed would depend on the circumstances, taking into account the context and the purpose and aim of the measures in place. On these particular facts, the ECtHR found no further deprivation of liberty for the following reasons:
- As a long term patient in a high secure hospital, Munjaz was already subject to greater restrictions than would normally be the case for a mental health patient
- Seclusion was imposed to contain severely disturbed behaviour likely to cause harm to others rather than as a punishment
- Duration alone was not determinative and the duration of the period of seclusion was a matter of clinical judgment
- In accordance with their seclusion policy, the hospital allowed secluded patients with the most liberal regime that was compatible with their presentation
Finally, disagreeing with the House of Lords, the ECtHR found that seclusion did interfere with the patient’s respect for private life; however, the seclusion policy in place was both accessible and sufficiently foreseeable as to be compliant with the law. In addition the hospital exercised its discretion with sufficient clarity to guard against any arbitrary interference with the Article 8 rights of Colonel Munjaz.