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The Doctrine of Necessity and the Detention and Restraint of People with Intellectual Impairment: Is there Any Justification?

K. Chandler, B. White, L. Wilmott,

Academic Literature


In Australia, the legal basis for the detention and restraint of people with intellectual impairment is ad hoc and unclear. There is no comprehensive legal framework that authorises and regulates the detention of, for example, older people with dementia in locked wards or in residential aged care, people with disability in residential services or people with acquired brain injury in hospital and rehabilitation services. This paper focuses on whether the common law doctrine of necessity (or its statutory equivalents) should have a role in permitting the detention and restraint of people with disabilities. Traditionally, the defence of necessity has been recognised as an excuse, where the defendant, faced by a situation of imminent peril, is excused from the criminal or civil liability because of the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. In the United Kingdom, however, in In re F (Mental Patient: Sterilisation)1 and R v Bournewood Community and Mental Health NHS Trust, ex parte L,2 the House of Lords broadened the defence so that it operated as a justification for treatment, detention and restraint outside of the emergency context. This paper outlines the distinction between necessity as an excuse and as a defence, and identifies a number of concerns with the latter formulation: problems of democracy, integrity, obedience, objectivity and safeguards. Australian courts are urged to reject the United Kingdom approach and retain an excuse-based defence, as the risks of permitting the essentially utilitarian model of necessity as a justification are too great. © 2015 The Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law.

Publication information

Journal/Publication : Psychiatry, Psychology and Law

Domain/s: Community and civic participation

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