2011: Restrictions of freedom
Involuntary internment of a legally competent person
In the Act on Legal Competence of 1997 (ALC), the term “involuntary commitment” is used to refer both to the transfer of a legally competent person to a hospital against his or her will followed by detention there, and to continued detention in hospital of a person against his or her will, who was already in hospital and had up to that point consented to being there. In section 19, it is stated that people possessing personal legal competence cannot be committed to a hospital against their will. However, the following sections make it clear that it is possible to do so as long as certain conditions are fulfilled. This section is about the involuntary commitment of people who have not been deprived of their legal competence. Once interned, a process for the deprivation of legal competence may be initiated.
The procedure for involuntary internment
A request for involuntary commitment of a person to hospital can be made to the Ministry of Justice by:
- The person’s spouse, his/her relatives by direct descent and siblings
- The person’s guardian or administrator
- The social security office or a corresponding municipal authority at the person’s place of stay at the time a request for deprivation of legal competence is considered advisable as a result of his or her own petition or that of his or her next of kin, doctor or friends, or by reason of knowledge of his or her situation otherwise obtained.
A form must be filled out and the request must be accompanied by a medical certificate not more than three days old containing the doctor’s description of the mental and physical condition of the person in question, the diagnosis if available and his or her opinion that the internment of the person is necessary (section 21).
The Ministry of Justice then processes the request on the basis of the completed form and attached medical certificate. If more information or evidence is needed, it is obtained. The Ministry may engage a consultant doctor to provide an opinion before making a decision. The consultant doctor can examine the condition of the person who has been committed at any time. The Ministry of Justice finally makes a decision and informs the relevant parties (sections 22-23).
A person who has been involuntarily committed can refer the decision to the courts. A judge will then without delay initiate the relevant legal procedure (section 30).
The duration of involuntary internment
A person can be transferred to hospital against his or her will for not more than 48 hours. If approved by the Ministry of Justice, the person can then be committed for a period not exceeding 21 days (provided that it is unavoidable in the opinion of a doctor). In both cases, the involuntary commitment may never last longer than the chief doctor considers necessary (section 29).
Involuntary internment of people deprived of legal competence
If the guardian of a person deprived of personal competence wants to have that person committed to an institution, he or she can only do so if a doctor deems that the life or health of the person is in danger (section 58 of the ALC). If this is the case, the guardian may decide to commit the person deprived of personal competence to an institution operated in accordance with the Health Services Act or the Act on the Affairs of the Disabled. He or she must then inform the supervisor of guardians. The guardian is entitled to ask for the assistance of the police to transfer the person deprived of personal competence to hospital and the doctor may accompany him or her if this is deemed necessary (section 19).
Personal advisors (councillors)
Section 27 of the Act on Legal Competence outlines the role of councillors in the case of involuntary internment. According to this section, a person subject to involuntary internment is entitled to the counsel and support of a specially appointed councillor with whom he or she can speak in private and on a regular basis (provided that his/her condition does not render this meaningless). The councillor can consult the person’s medical file and must ensure that any information that he or she discovers in the course of his or her functions is treated with confidentiality. The State Treasury pays the councillor’s fees.
Article 226 of the Penal Code states that anyone depriving another person of his/her freedom shall be subject to imprisonment for up to 4 years.
A penalty of imprisonment for no less than 1 year and up to 16 years or for life may be applied in certain circumstances, namely:
- if the deprivation of freedom was committed for the purpose of gain
- if the deprivation of freedom was of an extended duration
- if the person was illegally admitted to a lunatic asylum, removed to other countries or handed over to unauthorised people
Act on Legal Competence, N°71 of 1997. Accessed on 25 October 2011 on the Ministry of the Interior website at:
Last Updated: Wednesday 14 March 2012