Citizens Committee on Human Rights

The Mental Health Watchdog

Australian National Office

New NSW Mental Health Act Just Passed in Parliament Violates the UN Convention on Torture

An open legal book with a pen.The new NSW Mental Health Act was passed on 19th November 2014. While the ban on psychosurgery for all ages was retained, the new Act violates the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Electroshock of Children (ECT): The new Act retains the ability for psychiatry to perform electroshock on children of any age. Electroshock treatment (ECT) is hundreds of volts of electricity sent through the brain. ECT can cause brain damage, memory loss and even death. The new NSW Act allows psychiatrists to force ECT on children without parental consent and on adults if involuntarily detained. Such children can also be forcibly drugged and restrained.

In 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel Inhumane or Degrading Treatment of Punishment presented a report to the United Nations calling for Countries to, “impose an absolute ban on all forced and non-consensual medical interventions against persons with disabilities, including the non-consensual administration of … electroshock and mind-altering drugs, for both long- and short- term application.” The report equates these practices to “torture.”1

Western Australia has just banned ECT use on children under age 14.2 Sicily banned all use of ECT in 2013 and there are various other bans around the world.3 The World Health Organisation says, “There are no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation.”4

Restraint of Children: Unlike other states, the new NSW bill does not cover and provide protections against the use of mechanical restraint (the use of belts, harnesses, manacles and straps on children or adults), leaving this traumatic and abusive procedure in place without legal safeguards or criminal fines.

Instead of legal protections covered by law, restraint usage remains covered under a Health Policy Directive, Aggression, Seclusion & Restraint in Mental Health Facilities in NSW, compliance of which is a condition of subsidy for public health organisations.5 Private health organisations do not have to adhere to this Policy Directive but are expected to have policies in place.

While it’s legal to sedate someone while transporting them to a psychiatric facility in the new Act, but it does not otherwise regulate the use of chemical restraint (use of psychotropic drugs to subdue and control). Despite it being very obvious that chemical restraint is being widely used, the NSW restraint Policy Directive astoundingly denies that it is being used in hospitals!6 Without clear legislative guidelines and with nearly 15,000 involuntary admissions to NSW psychiatric institutions each year, thousands are at risk of severe harm including death from random chemical restraint.

All episodes of restraint and seclusion must be recorded in a restraint and seclusion register at every public psychiatric facility, according to the Policy Directive. However, ONLY the numbers of seclusions are required to be reported to NSW Health, effectively hiding this abusive practice from public scrutiny.7


  1. Statement by Mr. Juan E Méndez Special Rapporteur on Torture And Other Cruel, Inhuman Or Degrading Treatment Or Punishment, 22nd session of the Human Rights Council Agenda Item 3, 4 March 2013, Geneva, pages,1,5.
  2. ”Electroshock therapy on under 14’s banned after legislation passes Parliament, ABC News, 17 Oct 2014. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-17/mental-health-bill-passes-wa-parliament/5822874
  3. “Electroshock: Sicily has abolished the practice,” Living in Sicily 6 October 2013. http://livinginsicily.eu/tag/ban/ ; Matthew Sachs, MD, MPH & Vishal Madaan, MD, Electroconvulsive Therapy in Children and Adolescents: Brief Overview and Ethical Issues, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1 Jan 2012, p.2 https://www.aacap.org/App_Themes/AACAP/docs/member_resources/ethics/in_workplace/Sachs_Maadan_Electroconvulsive_Therapy_in_children_and_adolescents.pdf
  4. WHO Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation, World Health Organisation, 2005, p.64. http://www.who.int/mental_health/policy/legislation/essentialpackage2v1/en/
  5. Aggression, Seclusion and Restraint in Mental Health Facilities in NSW, 26 June 2012, p. bottom of front cover, http://www0.health.nsw.gov.au/policies/pd/2012/PD2012_035.html
  6. Aggression, Seclusion and Restraint in Mental Health Facilities in NSW, 26 June 2012, p.5. http://www0.health.nsw.gov.au/policies/pd/2012/PD2012_035.html
  7. Aggression, Seclusion and Restraint in Mental Health Facilities in NSW, 26 June 2012, p. 24, 25, 29. http://www0.health.nsw.gov.au/policies/pd/2012/PD2012_035.html
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