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Unit information: Law and Governance for Mental and Social Well-Being in 2018/19

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Unit name Law and Governance for Mental and Social Well-Being
Unit code LAWDM0132
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Judy Laing
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit aims to provide a firm knowledge and understanding of the relationships between mental health and mental capacity in the context of concerns for different modes of law and governance, and under the broad umbrella of social welfare. The unit approaches these questions through a range of practical, legal, and critical pathways, explaining the relevant legal frameworks, their application, and the basis of empirically-based and theoretically-led challenges to current mental health law and policy. Studies will be related to national and international governance instruments, including those based in human rights, and will incorporate perspectives including individual-based and population approaches, and address concerns about how social responsibility for mental health and well-being is and should be manifested.

Intended learning outcomes

The Unit aims to develop an understanding of Mental Health and Mental Capacity Law, considered in a broad social and legal context.

On completion of the Unit, students should be able to:

  1. Analyse critically the laws and policies regarding mental health and mental capacity
  2. Have a critical understanding of different means of evaluating and responding practically to problems concerning mental health and well-being
  3. Undertake independent research and critical analysis in relation to questions raised on the Unit
  4. Apply critically such knowledge and understanding within a discursive, critical essay
  5. Apply critically such knowledge and understanding through a research-led law reform project
  6. State and anlayse relevant law and other modes of regulation accurately
  7. Apply legal and political principles to practical questions concerning mental well-being

Teaching details

The Unit will provide thirty contact hours, comprised in eight topic/approach-focused lectures, two lectures focused on feedback and coursework preparation, and ten two-hour seminars incorporating mixed teaching and learning methods.

Assessment Details

The summative assessment for this Unit will be in the form of 1 x 2000-word critical, discursive essay, weighted at 33%, and 1 x 4000-word law reform project, weighted at 67% (this will be a research and advocacy project, on whose structure and content students will receive clear guidance). Students’ overall mark will be established by the combined result of the two assignments.

As it is an innovative assessment method, it may be useful to see some further detail on the law reform project:

  • this form of assessment is appropriate in particular in terms of the skills-development that are foundational to the overall programme of study: it requires students to identify a problematic area of health as a social concern, present a legal/regulatory response to that problem, and advance a defence for the proposed reform
  • students are given clear guidance on approach to research and presentation of the projects
  • that guidance explains that the project should incorporate three substantive sections (plus an intro and conclusion): first, with particular reference to primary sources and critically reasoned/evidenced argument, a case is made for why an area of health law is problematic; second, a reform proposal is described and explained; third, a justification section explains how and why the reform proposal will improve health law
  • this is an assessment model that one of the programme tutors (Coggon) has used very successfully elsewhere (and which was found to be very popular amongst students)
  • the relative weight compared to the essay represents the reality that a greater word space is a benefit on this sort of project
  • the project is formulated through library-based research, so there will be no question of students engaging in original empirical work for the project (and thus attendant potential problems associated with need for ethical clearance)

The subject matter of the assignments will relate to practical points addressed through the learning and teaching, and will assess all of the intended learning outcomes of the Unit. The first assessment will in particular focus on ILOs 1, 3, 4, and 6, and the second will in particular focus on ILOs 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7.

The formative assessment will be one 1500-word critical, discursive essay. There will be an opportunity for direct feedback on a separate law reform exercise through student presentations.

Additional opportunities for non-assessed formative work and feedback will be provided through mixed teaching methods and student-led tasks in seminars.

Reading and References

Specific reading lists will be provided within the Unit Guide as updated annually. These will include textbook readings, primary legal and regulatory materials, and secondary materials such as public reports and academic works.

Indicative points of reference:

  • P Bartlett & R Sandland, Mental Health Law, Policy & Practice (OUP 2013)
  • M Donnelly, Healthcare Decision Making and the Law: Autonomy, Capacity and the Limits of Liberalism (CUP 2010)
  • N Eastman & J Peay, Law without enforcement (Hart 1999)
  • B Hale, Mental Health Law (Sweet & Maxwell, 2011)
  • M Dudley et al, Mental Health and Human Rights: Vision, Praxis and Courage (OUP 2015)
  • L Gostin, P Fennell, J McHale, R Mackay (Eds) Principles of Mental Health Law and Policy (Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • B McSherry & P Weller (Eds), Rethinking Rights Based Mental Health Laws (Hart 2010)
  • B McSherry & I Freckleton (Eds) Coercive Care, Rights, Law and Policy (Routledge 2013)
  • J Peay, Mental Health and Crime (Routledge 2011)
  • J Peay, Decisions and Dilemmas: Working with Mental Health Law (Hart Publishing 2003)
  • N Rose, The Power of Psychiatry (Polity Press, 1986)
  • C Unsworth, The Politics of Mental Health Legislation (Clarendon Press, 1987)