Mental Health Act - emergency and short-term powers: guide

A guide for service users and their carers to the Mental Health Act emergency and short-term powers (2008 version).

In March 2003 the Scottish Parliament passed a new law, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003. It came into effect in October 2005. It sets out how you can be treated if you have a mental illness, a learning disability or a personality disorder, and what your rights are.

This guide is one in a series about the new Act. It focuses on emergency and short-term powers.

The Act sets out:

  • When you can be given treatment against your will
  • When you can be taken into hospital against your will
  • What your rights are
  • What safeguards there are to make sure your rights are protected.

The term 'emergency powers' is used in this guide to cover:

  • Police power to remove a person to a place of safety
  • The local authority's duty to inquire where a person may be at risk
  • The nurse's holding power where a person is a voluntary patient in hospital
  • The granting of an emergency detention certificate.

This guide is written for people who have a mental disorder, but it may be of interest to others including carers and advocacy workers.

This guide does not cover powers which might be used to treat people who are involved in criminal proceedings ( see here).


While we have done our best to see that the information contained in this guide was accurate and up to date when it was published we cannot guarantee this. If you have any questions about how the information might apply to you, you should discuss your concerns with a solicitor, your independent advocate or other appropriate adviser.

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