Mental health and human rights – an assessment

The Ministry of Health is leading work to better understand how mental health legislation relates to our human rights law and obligations under international conventions.

This page details why this work is happening, and what is proposed. It will also carry updates as appropriate, and link to any useful resources for interested parties.


This work stems from the oversight provided by the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues. The Ministerial Committee is mandated by Cabinet to provide leadership, coordination and accountability across government on disability issues.

The Disability Action Plan 2014–2018, which sets out priorities for action that promote disabled people’s participation and contribution in society, operates under the authority of the committee.

The Ministerial Committee also oversees implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

Reasons for this work

This work relates to Action 9(d) of the updated Disability Action Plan, approved by Cabinet in December 2015, and sits under priority 9: to increase government services’ responsiveness to disabled people.

Action 9(d) is to:

Explore how the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 [the Mental Health Act] relates to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the CRPD.

The description of disability in the CRPD includes persons who have ‘long term physical, mental and sensory impairments that, in the face of various negative attitudes or physical obstacles, may prevent those persons from participating fully in society’ (article 1). This description is generally understood to include long term mental ill health or psychosocial disability.

The project is aiming to develop a shared understanding of how the Mental Health Act relates to the NZ Bill of Rights Act and the CRPD, and of any issues or concerns about its implementation.

Next steps

The Ministry is taking a number of steps in order to eventually report back with advice and options to address concerns or issues raised by this work.

These are:

  • a legal analysis of the Mental Health Act’s compatibility with the New Zealand Bill of Rights and the CRPD
  • a collaborative process to identify issues or concerns about the administration of the Mental Health Act in relation to the above
  • written and face-to-face consultation with stakeholders regarding the above
  • the development of advice and options for the Ministerial Committee.

Involved groups

The Ministry has established a project steering group to oversee the work. The steering group includes representatives from Balance Aotearoa. Balance is a charitable trust and was one of seven disabled people’s organisations which worked with government on the co-design of the Disability Action Plan. The Ministry is also establishing a wider stakeholder reference group to advise the project.

The project will be informed by feedback from tangata whaiora/service users, families and whānau, sector experts and services, and relevant research and literature.

Not covered

Action 9(d) is not a review of the Mental Health Act and changes to the Act are out of scope. However, the findings from Action 9(d) will inform any future review of the Mental Health Act.

Action 9(d) does not include a review or exploration of the system of compulsory mental health assessment and treatment of people who have entered the mental health system through the courts or corrections systems.


Consultation with interested parties will take place in the second half of 2016. The steering group expects to be in a position to report to the Ministerial Group in the first half of 2017.

Getting involved

Although Balance Aotearoa is a project partner with the Ministry of Health, wider engagement with the various groups and individuals representing the tangata whaiora/service user perspective is important, along with families, whānau, those who work in the mental health sector and those who are involved in administration and monitoring of the Mental Health Act. The project team will consult with these groups later in 2016.

A reference group made up of the different perspectives is helping the project team to identify issues and concerns.


Updates on the work will appear here.

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