Overprotecting professionals from ‘vexatious’ claims under the Hong Kong Mental Health Ordinance: The question of access to justice for persons with mental illness
Using Hong Kong’s mental health legislation as a case study, this article asks whether provisions in domestic mental health legal frameworks which seek to restrict the institution of legal proceedings against those working under such legislation may be justified, given the implications they have on the fundamental right to access to justice. Under section 69 of the Hong Kong Mental Health Ordinance, legal proceedings cannot be brought against anyone acting in pursuance of the Ordinance unless leave has been given by a court, and such leave shall not be given unless the court is satisfied there is a ‘reasonably arguable’ case of bad faith or negligence. Limited case law on section 69 and Hong Kong mental health jurisprudence in general indicate that this test is likely to be applied by judges stringently, with the result that mental health patients face a virtually insurmountable hurdle should they wish to bring actions against professionals for wrongful or negligent treatment under the Ordinance. The author argues that provisions such as section 69 are rooted in discriminatory stereotypes of persons with mental illness as particularly ‘vexatious’ litigants and constitute unjustified barriers to their right to equal access to the courts. In Hong Kong’s case, in particular, section 69 operates within and reinforces a broader legislative framework that is systemically discriminatory against those who fall under the compulsory mental health regime. As such, such provisions must be seriously reconsidered and reformed.
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