International Mental Disability Law Reform Project

About the Project

The International Mental Disability Law Reform Project promotes a wide range of advocacy initiatives in Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa. It is involved in legislative reform, lawyer and law student training, pro bono legal assistance, and the full range of law reform projects that relate to the practice of mental disability law in other nations. This project is closely related to the online, distance learning Mental Disability Law program that now offers nine separate courses in all aspects of mental disability law to New York Law School students, to students at other domestic law schools, and to practicing lawyers, mental health professionals, advocates, and activists. Sections of these courses have been offered in the past in Nicaragua and Japan, and new partnerships are currently in development to offer other courses in Japan, China, and East Africa.

Professor Michael Perlin is the program director of the Justice Action Center’s International Mental Disability Law Reform Project as well as the Law School’s Online Mental Disability Law Program. For more information on the latter program, please visit the program’s home page at, or contact Liane Bass, the program’s Senior Administrator, at 212.431.2125 or

Recent Project News

Project Joins California Case in Support of Appellant

On behalf of the International Mental Disability Law Reform Project of the Justice Action Center, Professor Michael Perlin is amicus in a case in the California Supreme Court—People v. Barrett—on the right of a person with a developmental disability to a jury trial prior to civil commitment. Professor Perlin entered the case to support the argument that appellant’s position is supported by the recently-ratified United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and that, although the United States has not yet ratified the Convention (signed last year by President Obama), Supreme Court precedent (see Roper v. Simmons (1995)) teaches that world opinion should properly be a source upon which domestic courts may draw during the ratification process. Appellant in the Barrett case is represented by New York Law School Adjunct Professor Debbie Dorfman ’92.

Related links:

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Delivers Opinion in Case Joined by Project Director as Amicus

On December 10, 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an important decision in Algodonero v. Mexico, a case concerning three in a series of hundreds of unsolved and poorly investigated disappearances, rapes, and murders of young, predominantly migrant women and girls in the border town of Ciudad Juarez over the past fifteen years. The Court found Mexico in violation of the American Convention of Human Rights and the Convention Belém do Pará (Inter-American Convention on The Prevention, Punishment And Eradication of Violence Against Women) and ordered Mexico to comply with a broad set of remedial measures including a national memorial, renewed investigations, and reparations of over $200,000 each to the families in the suit.

The decision is important for a number of reasons, including the fact that, for the first time, the Court considered a state’s affirmative obligations to respond to violence against women by private actors, looked at the cases at issue in the context of mass violence against women and structural discrimination, and found that gender-based violence can constitute gender discrimination.

Project Director Michael Perlin signed onto a July 2009 amici brief in the case on behalf of the International Mental Disability Law Reform Project of the Justice Action Center. Lead counsel for amici were a California human rights firm and the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School.

Related links:

  • To view a PDF of the amici brief, click here.
  • To read the decision or concurrences (in Spanish), click here.

Project Director Joins as Amicus in Czech Constitutional Court Case

Under the aegis of IMDLRP, Project Director Michael Perlin is participating as amicus in support of the Mental Disability Advocacy Center and the Czech NGO “League of Human Rights” in the case of Tomas v. Jiri. The case is a voting rights case brought in the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic on behalf of persons with mental disabilities.  Professor Perlin argues that residence in a state institution for persons with mental disabilities does not render one unable to vote.