BMA guidance

Mental capacity in Northern Ireland

This toolkit acts as a guide to doctors in Northern Ireland when they are providing care and treatment for people who lack, or may lack, the mental capacity to make decisions on their own behalf.

Location: Northern Ireland
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 18 March 2024
Topics: Ethics
Justice scales article illustration

The Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 was enacted by the Northern Ireland Assembly in May 2016, but currently only the sections relating to research, money and valuables and to deprivation of liberty are in force. Apart from these provisions, the care and treatment of adults lacking capacity in Northern Ireland remains largely governed by the common law.


What you'll get from this toolkit

  • A clear explanation of which decisions are covered by the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 and which continue to be covered by the common law and what that means in practice for decision making
  • Information on the basic principles of the common law, assessing best interests, dispute resolution and the status of advance decisions to refuse treatment (ADRT)
  • Guidance on the requirements of the 2016 Act when making decisions in relation to deprivation of liberty and research
  • Links to other relevant guidance and resources from the BMA and other bodies including the Department of Health Northern Ireland

You may also be interested to see our core ethics guidance


How to use this toolkit

The purpose of this toolkit is not to provide definitive answers for every situation but to identify the key factors that need to be considered when decisions are made; to summarise the relevant legal considerations; and to signpost other key professional guidance. It is not a set of rules or instructions, or a substitute for careful reflection and discussion with colleagues.

  • Capacity and incapacity
  • Basic principles
  • Assessing capacity
  • Best interests
  • Supported decision making
  • Advance decisions to refuse treatment
  • Treatment in an emergency
  • Treatments requiring special safeguards
  • Restraint and other restrictive practices
  • Care and treatment amounting to deprivation of liberty
  • Research
  • Dispute resolution
  • Confidentiality and information sharing