". . . Dr Shea’s fascinating history and analysis of mental health law in New South Wales from its earliest days … a lucid and scholarly account of the medico-legal concept of mental illness. Members of both professions and many others besides will profit from his research and have a much clearer understanding of the importance of the policy issues involved and the inherent difficulty of attempting to solve them in the words of a statute. …
Far from being a dry legislative history, this is an absorbing account of the attempt to set out the circumstances that would justify a person being involuntarily detained in a mental hospital."Michael Sexton SC, Solicitor-General for NSW
Dr Shea focuses on the central point of tension in mental health legislation – the need to balance an individual’s right, in normal circumstances, to liberty and privacy, with the need to protect the general community including members of the individual’s family.
In Australia that debate has been conducted largely through the definition of a "mentally ill person". A person admitted as "a mentally ill person" can be confined for the length of their treatment; the definition, accordingly, raises a special need for a system of safeguards.
Dr Shea charts the changes to the definition from Lunacy Act 1843 to the 1997 amendments to the Mental Health Act 1990. He discusses not only the various statutory provisions but also the numerous committee reports and parliamentary debates in which the issue is explored.