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Oliver practises in the fields of mental health, Court of Protection cases, inquests and international human rights law. Having been called to the Bar in 2000 he spent sixteen years as the Executive Director of the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC), an NGO in Budapest working for the rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues in Europe and Africa.

Oliver has a PhD in international human rights law and holds a part-time position as Professor of Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds. He is also a trustee of the Avon and Bristol Law Centre and a member of the Hungary Board of PILnet, the global network of public interest law.

Mental Health and Court of Protection

Oliver practises across the spectrum of mental health and disability litigation. This includes applications under s. 21A Mental Capacity Act 2005 and other cases in the Court of Protection (acting for litigation friends including the Official Solicitor, local authorities and other parties), vulnerable adult cases brought under the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction, applications by detained patients to the First-tier Tribunal (Mental Health) and appeals to the Upper Tribunal as well as representation of families and other interested parties in inquests.

Oliver has eighteen years’ experience at the forefront of mental health advocacy, both internationally and in the UK. Under his leadership the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre brought a series of successful test cases in the European Court of Human Rights, including Shtukaturov v. Russia (2008) and Stanev v. Bulgaria (2012) which have been cited by the UK Supreme Court. 


Oliver has an evolving practice representing bereaved families in inquests. He has been instructed by the charity INQUEST and has a particular interest representing families who have been let down by health or social services.

At the international level Oliver oversaw MDAC’s third party intervention in Centre for Legal Resources v. Romania (2014), a case brought by a Romanian NGO in the European Court of Human Rights. This is a leading case on the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and access to justice for people with mental disabilities. The Court agreed with MDAC’s submissions and concluded that an NGO could pursue an application on behalf of a man who died in a psychiatric hospital and had no next of kin. 

International Human Rights Law

Oliver has carried out human rights monitoring and delivered training in over twenty countries around the world. He offers legal and policy advice and training to bodies committed to implementing human rights standards: governments, NGOs, inspectorates, philanthropic organisations, corporations and development agencies.

Areas of his legal expertise include children’s rights, mental health law, monitoring closed institutions (such as social care institutions and psychiatric hospitals), equality and non-discrimination, community living, guardianship and legal capacity, political participation, access to justice, and combatting torture and ill-treatment – including sexual violence, psychiatric coercion and conditions of detention.

At MDAC Oliver oversaw the largest multi-country docket of disability rights test cases in the world. Under his leadership the charity represented applicants or acted as amicus curiae in several cases before the European Court of Human Rights, including: Gajcsi v. Hungary, 2006, fresh evidence needed for mental health detention; Shtukaturov v. Russia, 2008, guardianship cannot be used as a backdoor to psychiatric detention; Alajos Kiss v. Hungary, 2010, legal capacity and the right to vote; Stanev v. Bulgaria, 2012, social care detention and degrading conditions; Bures v. Czech Republic, 2012, physical restraint; Sykora v. Czech Republic, 2012, detention and guardianship; ZH v Hungary, 2013, reasonable accommodations in prison; Lashin v. Russia, 2013, right of person under guardianship to marry; Mikhailenko v. Ukraine, 2013, guardianship; Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Campianu v. Romania, 2014, right to life, standing of NGOs to represent a deceased person; Stankov v. Bulgaria, 2015, guardianship and social care detention; Blokhin v. Russia, 2016, unlawful detention in prison and abuse of boy with disabilities; Kocherov and Sergeyeva v. Russia, 2016, disabled parents have the right to bring up children; Cervenka v. Czech Republic, 2016, detention and guardianship; Usmanov v. Russia, 2016, conditions of psychiatric detention.

Working in partnership with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Oliver initiated the first case in central and eastern Europe concerning disability discrimination in the provision of education (MDAC v. Bulgaria, 2008, European Committee of Social Rights). This case helped to ensure that dangerous and abusive children’s institutions in Bulgaria were closed down. Following research in Uganda, under his leadership MDAC initiated two test cases in the Ugandan courts, one on discriminatory police brutality of a woman with mental health issues, and another challenging solitary confinement in Uganda’s largest psychiatric hospital. MDAC achieved numerous successes in constitutional courts and other domestic proceedings, including in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Russia and Slovakia. 

Advocacy before Intergovernmental Organisations

Oliver has developed and implemented advocacy strategies using international human rights mechanisms and the media. He is experienced in conducting negotiations with representatives of governments and intergovernmental organisations. Oliver has also facilitated complex and innovative multi-stakeholder discussions. For example, he worked to bring the disability and Roma rights communities together for the first time to advocate at the UN level for inclusive education for all children.

He has made many written and oral submissions to human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee against Torture, the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He has advised several UN Special Rapporteurs (on Health and on Torture), and he has worked on projects with OHCHR, UNDP, UNICEF and the WHO.

In Europe, Oliver has conducted advocacy at the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Commissioner for Human Rights. In 2011, he led a successful international campaign to persuade the Venice Commission to reverse its position that people could be deprived of the right to vote on the basis of their mental incapacity. 

Key Publications


  • P Bartlett, O Lewis and O Thorold, Mental Disability and the European Convention on Human Rights, (Martinus Nijhoff, Brill Publishing, the Netherlands, 2007), foreword by Sir Nicolas Bratza

Book chapters

  • O Lewis, ‘The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Council of Europe Jurisprudence’ in A Lawson and L Waddington (eds) Interpreting and Domesticating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: A Comparative Analysis of the Role of Courts, OUP (forthcoming 2017)

  • A Hendriks, and O Lewis, ‘Disability and Medical Law’, in B M Knoppers and Y Joly (eds) Routledge Handbook of Medical Law and Ethics, Routledge, 2014 

  • O Lewis, ‘The Role of Global Psychiatry in Advancing Human Rights’ in Juan Mendez (ed) Torture in Healthcare Settings: Reflections on the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s 2013 Thematic Report, 2014

  • O Lewis and N Munro, ‘Civil Society Involvement in Mental Health Law and Policy Reform’ in M Dudley, D Silove, F Gale (eds) Mental Health and Human Rights, OUP, 2012

  • O Lewis and P Bartlett, ‘Human Rights and Community Mental Health’ in G Thornicroft et al (eds) Oxford Textbook of Community Mental Health, OUP, 2011

  • O Lewis, ‘The expressive, educational and proactive roles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’, in B McSherry and P Waller (eds) Rethinking Rights-Based Mental Health Laws, Hart Publishing, 2010

  • J Fiala and O Lewis, ‘Investigations After Death and European Law’ in L Clements and J Read (eds) Disabled People and the Right to Life: the protection and violation of disabled people’s most basic human right, Routledge, 2008

Journal articles

  • O Lewis and A Campbell (2017) ‘Violence and abuse against people with disabilities: a comparison of the approaches of the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (forthcoming)

  • O Lewis and F Callard (2017): The World Psychiatric Association’s “Bill of Rights”: A curious contribution to human rights, International Journal of Mental Health, DOI: 10.1080/00207411.2017.1278963

  • O Lewis, ‘Disabling legal barriers’ (2017) 1 European Human Rights Law Review,   

  • O Lewis, ‘Case analysis: Nyusti and Takacs v Hungary: decision of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’, (2013) European Human Rights Law Review, 4, 419-424

  • D Karsay and O Lewis, ‘Disability, torture and ill-treatment: taking stock and ending abuses’, (2012) International Journal of Human Rights, 16(6), 816–830

  • O Lewis, ‘Stanev v. Bulgaria: On the Pathway to Freedom’, Human Rights Brief, Winter 2012, 2-7

  • O Lewis, ‘Advancing legal capacity jurisprudence’, (2011) European Human Rights Law Review, 6, 700-714

  • N Drew, M Funk, S Tang, J Lamichhane, E Chávez, S Katontoka, S Pathare, O Lewis, L Gostin and B Saraceno, ‘Human rights violations of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities: an unresolved global crisis’, The Lancet, 17 October 2011

  • M Rasmussen and O Lewis, ‘Introductory Note to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’, 46 (2007) I.L.M. 441

  • O Lewis, ‘Right to life: European Convention on Human Rights: Case Commentary on Paul and Audrey Edwards v. The United Kingdom (2003) Journal of Mental Health Law, 75-84 

  • O Lewis, ‘Mental Disability Law in Central and Eastern Europe: Paper, Practice, Promise’, (2002) 8 Journal of Mental Health Law, 293-303, re-printed in J Peay (ed) Seminal Issues in Mental Health Law (Ashgate, London, 2005)

  • O Lewis, ‘Protecting the Rights of People with Mental Disabilities: the European Convention on Human Rights’ (2002) European Journal of Health Law, 9(4), 293-320