W v L (mental health patient) [1973] 3 All ER 884 (CA)

Mental illness – definition – nearest relative – displacing – unreasonable objection

This case concerned the definition of ‘mental illness’ in s26 Mental Health Act 1959 (see now s1 MHA 1983), and the test for displacing the nearest relative, under s52(3)(c) (now s29(3) MHA 1983), on the grounds that the nearest relative had unreasonably objected to the treatment of the patient.

As to the definition of mental illness, the Court said that the words ‘mental illness’ did not have a particular medical significance but were ordinary words of the English language which should be construed in the way that ordinary sensible people would construe them.

As regards the test for displacing the nearest relative, the proper test was an objective one, ie what a reasonable person in the nearest relative’s place would do in all the circumstances of the case. It was not correct to look at the matter from the nearest relative’s point of view. (See also >Ingram v Manchester City Council)

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