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Information About Mental Health Tribunals

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 11 Sep 2012 |
 
Mental Health Act Tribunal Court

Mental Health Tribunals are judicial bodies that are independent of government. Their function is to determine the cases of mental health patients who have been detained under the Mental Health Act and decide whether or not they should be discharged from hospital. Mental Health Tribunals are normally heard in private, and therefore there are no members of the press or media at the hearings. They usually take place either in the hospital where the patient is detained, or community unit, if applicable.

A mental health tribunal will hear cases in which:

  • a patient is appealing against their initial detention under section 2 of the Mental Health Act (within 14 days of the detention)
  • a patient who is detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act can appeal to the tribunal once every six months
  • a patient detained under section 37 of the Mental Health Act can appeal at the end of the first six months of the detention. Thereafter they have the same rights of appeal as a person detained under section 3 (see above.)

What Does The Tribunal Do?

The MHA Tribunal’s role is to decide whether or not to discharge a patient detained under the Mental Health Act. They may order the discharge immediately or after a short period of further detention. Other powers include the ability to recommend leave of absence, supervised community treatment, or for the patient to be transferred to another hospital. Although the tribunal’s powers are called ‘recommendations’ they have the ability to reconvene and reconsider a patient’s case if there is a failure to comply with the recommendations the tribunal makes.

Who Makes Up The Tribunal?

The tribunal is made up of three members. One of these people is a judge, who chairs the proceedings. One of the other two members is a medical specialist. The patient is also present at the hearing, as is their hospital doctor, a social worker, and the patient’s legal representative, if they have one. If the patient or their lawyer has provided details of the patient’s next of kin, they are also invited to attend. Patients are normally expected to attend their own hearings. If they do not, the tribunal will expect to be told reasons for this. Patients must decide not to attend of their own free will, but if they do not attend the case may proceed without them.

At the hearing, the tribunal will hear and read evidence relating to the patient’s mental, physical and other circumstances. The patient has a right to see copies of the documentation that the tribunal will see as evidence. The patient’s doctor will also explain what the hospital and the patient’s doctor intends to say to the mental health tribunal in advance of the hearing. The hearing is informal, and the patient’s lawyer will be smartly dressed but not in a wig or gown. Most lawyers who attend mental health tribunals are solicitors rather than barristers.

The Decision

The tribunal will normally decide what to do at the end of the hearing and will communicate this to the patient and their representative at the time. Reasons are not usually provided at this stage, but are reduced to writing and send to the patient and their legal representative a few days afterwards.

Appeals

It is possible to appeal against the decision of a mental health tribunal if certain criteria are satisfied. These are contained within Part 5 of the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.

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