The Essex Autonomy Project was founded as a research and knowledge exchange initiative in 2010. We started out with the aim of clarifying the ideal of self-determination in history, theory and practice, but have expanded to consider mental health and human rights law, decision-making capacity, insight into illness, and objectivity in care practices. We work with lawyers, psychiatrists, social care practitioners and policy-makers. Our timeline shows key moments in the growth of the project, which continues to evolve.
Public Policy Lab: 'Objectivity and Evidence in the Assessment of Mental Capacity'
As part of our work on the Wellcome Trust funded Mental Health and Justice project, EAP team members were involved in planning and hosting the first MHJ Public Policy Lab in London. The topic of this Lab was the objectivity of assessments of decision-making capacity. The aim of the Lab was both to share preliminary research findings from the project and to engage the broader policy and practice community in developing the research further.
Wellcome Trust award for the EAP
The EAP was awarded a five year grant from the Wellcome Trust to investigate insight and objectivity in mental health care. The project is part of a large multi-million pound collaborative investment from Wellcome under the heading of Mental Health and Justice.
Conference: UK Engagement with the UNCRPD: A Three Jurisdictions Approach
This conference presented the findings of the AHRC and ESRC funded project investigating UK compliance with the UNCRPD. The conference was opened by Sandra McDonald, the Public Guardian for Scotland, and considered issues around the current situation in the UK and support for operationalising Article 12.4 safeguards.
EAP hosts side-event at the UN
The EAP hosted a side-event to the 15th Session of the meeting of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The event held in Geneva looked at Operationalising Article 12.4 Safeguards: Lessons from Three Jurisdictions of the UK.
Essex Autonomy Project 'highly commended' by the Times Higher
The Essex Autonomy Project was short-listed for 'Research Project of the Year' and although we didn't win, the project was highly commended as an example of outstanding research.
AHRC and ESRC award to investigate UNCPRD compliance
The EAP was commissioned by the ARHC and the ESRC to provide technical support to the UK government in preparation for the upcoming UN review of UK compliance with the CRPD. The 'Three Jurisdictions' project looked at compliance with the CRPD in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The project was a collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University, TC Young Solicitors, 39 Essex Chambers, the Mental Health Foundation and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
EAP gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly
Wayne Martin was invited to give evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ad hoc Joint Committee on the Mental Capacity Bill. As part of a round-table discussion, Wayne and other international experts were invited to critique the draft Mental Capacity Bill currently being considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The minutes of the discussion can be found here.
Conference: Autonomy and the End of Life
Part of the University of Essex 50th Anniversary year, the EAP hosted a conference on the philosophical and ethical implications of end of life decisions, whether we have a right to autonomy in the process of dying and what we can learn from previous cases of autonomy and the end of life.
Practitioner Workshop: Autonomy at the End of Life
Part of the University of Essex 50th Anniversary year, the EAP led a workshop specifically for health and social care practitioners on issues around end of life care. The day covered recent legal history concerning end of life decisions, the challenges of assessing capacity in serious depression and after brain injury and the challenges of risk assessment.
Conference: Is the MCA Compliant with the UNCPRD? And if not, what next?
A one-day conference held at the Institute for Government to debate the issues surrounding the Mental Capacity Act and whether it is compliant with the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability. Sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the conference discussed the challenges and opportunities of the UNCRPD, mental capacity and disability discrimination, conflicts of rights under the UNCRPD and service-user perspectives on best-interests decision making under the MCA.
EAP awarded new AHRC grant
The AHRC awarded funding to the EAP to provide advice to the Ministry of Justice as part of an ongoing review of whether the Mental Capacity Act is compliant with the UNCPRD.
The project 'Achieving CRPD Compliance- is the MCA of England and Wales compliant with the UNCRPD? And if not, what next?' brought together researchers, civil servants, judges and third-sector organisations to debate the issues around CRPD compliance.
IMCA Training Day
Working with Empowerment Matters, this one-day course was aimed specifically at Independent Mental Capacity Advocates and aimed to equip IMCAs with philosophical tools to help achieve effective advocacy and client representation.
EAP present at the Inaugural Court of Protection Practitioners Association Conference
The first annual conference of the Court of Protection Practitioners Association took place in Manchester. The title of the conference was 'The Secret Court: Lifting the Veil on the Court of Protection'. Wayne Martin spoke on E and L and Wilgefortis: Autonomy and Mental Capacity at the End of Life.
EAP Autonomy Summer School
Following on from two highly successful AHRC-funded Autonomy Summer Schools in 2011 and 2013, in July 2013 EAP hosted our first independent Autonomy Summer School.
Conference: Defensible in Theory, Workable in Practice
This conference, held at the Institute of Philosophy, was the culmination of the EAP's initial AHRC-funded work. The conference considered whether there are conceptions of autonomy that are defensible in theory and workable in practice. Issues covered included philosophical disputes about theories of autonomy, developments in mental health and capacity law, and autonomy in the context of eating disorders.
Second AHRC Autonomy Summer School
In September 2012, EAP hosted the second Autonomy Summer School funded by the EAP-AHRC partnership on "Contested Autonomy in Public Policy and Professional Practice."
Workshop: Between Moral Failure and Psychopathology
Social welfare policies are driven by two apparently conflicting objectives: to satisfy unmet welfare need and to promote personal responsibility. Reconciling both is a key challenge for the welfare state. This workshop assessed the theoretical adequacy and practical applicability of a ‘normative capacities’ approach to the public policy challenges in this arena.
Workshop: Capacity Assessment: Ethical, Political and Metaphysical Issues
Mental capacity has become a central concept in social care and mental health services; yet disagreement persists over what capacity requires, how and when it is best assessed, and to what extent a person's mental incapacity can legitimise taking decisions on their behalf. This workshop brought together together psychiatrists, lawyers, social workers, philosophers, carers and representatives of advocacy groups to discuss mental capacity in law, practice and theory.
AHRC Deprivation of Liberty and DoLS Roundtable
Hosted by the Medical Research Council, this Roundtable was chaired by Wayne Martin and Fabian Freyenhagen with invited participants discussing deprivation of liberty and the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), including their performance in social care and psychiatry, their legal history, the implications of recent judgements, training needs, and their relation to wider care and mental health policy.
Workshop: Paternalism and Coercion
In theory and in practice, autonomy and paternalism are often understood to stand in a classic zero-sum relation: more paternalism means less autonomy, and vice versa. This raises the question of how best to strike the proper balance between the two. But in some sense paternalism and autonomy seem to be capable of standing together, as when parents act to foster the autonomy of their children. This workshop facilitated an exchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries to explore these and related issues.
Conference: Was Autonomy the Wrong Ideal?
A key question for the Essex Autonomy Project is whether, and in what sense, autonomy is an appropriate ideal in human affairs. It is very often taken for granted that individual autonomy is a good worth pursuing, perhaps a very basic good. But at the same time it is clear that the ideal is contentious. This conference confronted the criticisms of autonomy and considered whether autonomy can be a suitable ideal for finite, dependent, embodied creatures like ourselves.
AHRC Autonomy Summer School covered by the Guardian
The AHRC Autonomy Summer School was featured in the GuardianProfessional, in a report focusing on the ethical and philosophical challenges faced by front-line practitioners. Summer School participants spoke to journalist Keith Cooper about the importance of training in philosophical issues and the impact the Summer School has had on their professional practice.
First AHRC Autonomy Summer School
On 15-17 September 2011, EAP hosted the first AHRC Autonomy Summer School - a three-day event funded by the EAP-AHRC partnership on "Contested Autonomy in Public Policy and Professional Practice." The primary mission of the Summer School was to provide a forum for continuing professional development of frontline professionals who must grapple with dilemmas associated with the ideal of individual autonomy in human affairs.
This event - along with the second AHRC-funded Summer School in 2012 - inaugurated the tradition of the annual EAP Autonomy Summer School, which has since been running every year.
AHRC Best Interests Public Policy Roundtable
The EAP participated in this Roundtable, hosted by the Ministry of Justice. The event was chaired by Wayne Martin and Fabian Freyenhagen, with invited participants discussing legal, ethical and policy questions concerning best-interests decisions, alongside broader issues of mental capacity
Workshop: Normative Neutrality and the Theory of Autonomy
This interdisciplinary workshop focused on the challenges of respecting autonomy whilst considering the legal, medical and social welfare environments that decisions are made in - environment which often have strong presumptions about what would be beneficial to individuals.
Workshop: Understanding Others
Held at the Institute of Philosophy, London, this workshop brought together researchers and practitioners with expertise in phenomenology and psychiatry. The workshop considered the theoretical basis for phenomenological investigation of the experiences of other people, how the techniques of clinical psychiatry can be integrated into the methods of phenomenology and how our understanding of particular psychiatric disorders could be enhanced through insights from the phenomenological tradition.
Workshop: Consent at an Impasse
This workshop confronted some of the fundamental problems with the idea of consent in theory and in practice. The speakers included Phil Fennell (Cardiff Law School) on treatment without consent, Anne-Marie Slowther (Warwick Medical School) on the family's role in obtaining consent, Michael Brown (West Midlands Police Force) on police decision-making relating to criminal suspects with mental health issues and Sheldon Leader (University of Essex) on consent, freedom and futures.
New EAP-AHRC Partnership
In November 2010, the Arts and Humanities Research Council approved a major expansion of its support for the Essex Autonomy Project. The new initiative established a partnership between the AHRC and EAP to expand research and knowledge-exchange activities on the theme: "Contested Autonomy in Public Policy and Professional Practice." The principle aims of the partnership were to launch an annual Autonomy Summer School to be held at the University of Essex, to support new research staff for the project, and to develop a 'road show' seminar and an EAP Distance Learning Hub. As part of the partnership, EAP and AHRC also jointly sponsored two Public Policy Seminars, held in Westminster in 2011 and 2012.
First international conference: The Vexed and Contentious History of Autonomy
This conference was held at the Institute of Philosophy, London, and included papers on Continuity in the History of Autonomy (Terence Irwin, Oxford), the Ethics of Freedom (Topm Pink, KLC), Appropriating Freedom: Freuds's Concept of Autonomy (Axel Honneth, Frankfurt), Autonomy as an End (Katerina Deligiori) and Reason's Form (Robert Pippin, Chicago).
Inaugural Workshop: Autonomous Judgement - Challenges and Strategies
The first EAP workshop was held at the University of Essex. The workshop introduced the project and had presentations from guest speakers on topics including the clinical assessment of capacity, the law of consent, the MCA and the MHA, and philosophical models of autonomy.
The Essex Autonomy Project Begins!
The Essex Autonomy Project started with a grant from the AHRC to investigate autonomous judgement in history, theory and practice. The project was initially funded for three years with the aim of investigating the ideal of self-determination in human affairs. The project was founded by Wayne Martin and Fabian Freyenhagen, with research support from Tom O'Shea, Antal Szerletics and Viv Ashley.