mental condition

Mental Health Review Tribunal

The Mental Health Review Tribunal consists of two distinct bodies, within a single Non-Departmental Public Body, which exist to protect the rights of persons subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 in England and Wales in the United Kingdom. Essentially, it provides for consideration of appeals against detention in hospital made by people thus detained.

The bodies

The first body is a Judicial Tribunal with the responsibility for hearing applications or references concerning people detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. The Tribunal members are appointed by the Department of Constitutional Affairs. There is a Liaison Judge appointed to the Tribunal to lead its development.

The second body is the Mental Health Review Tribunal Secretariat. This is staffed by members of the Department of Health, and has responsibility for the administration of the Tribunals.

The judicial tribunals

Mental Health Review Tribunals are independent judicial bodies that operate under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Mental Health Review Tribunal Rules 1983. A Tribunal's main purpose is to review the case of a patient detained under the Mental Health Act and to direct the discharge of any patient for whom the statutory criteria for discharge have been satisfied. In some cases, the Tribunal also has the discretion to discharge a patient who does not meet the statutory criteria. Such cases usually involve making a balanced judgement on a number of serious issues such as the freedom of the individual, the protection of the public and the best interests of the patient.

Tribunal members

The Lord Chancellor makes appointments to the panels of members for each region. In the case of medical and lay members, the Secretary of State for Health (for cases in England) or the Secretary of State for Wales is also consulted. The Regional Chairmen appoint the members who are to sit at a particular hearing and there must be a legal member, a medical member and a lay member appointed for each Tribunal hearing.

Role of the legal member

The legal member's role is to preside (i.e. take the chair) at Tribunal hearings. His or her responsibilities also include making sure that the proceedings are conducted fairly, that the legal requirements of the Mental Health Act 1983 are properly observed and advising on any questions of law which may arise. He or she is also responsible, in consultation with other members of the Tribunal, for drafting the reasons for the decision, and for signing the record of the decision. The legal members are required to have "such legal experience, as the Lord Chancellor considers suitable". They are normally senior practitioners, but in 'restricted patient' cases, must be Circuit Judges, or one of a small number of Recorders, who are also Queen's Counsel.

Role of the medical member

The medical member has a dual role to perform. They are required by the Tribunal Rules to carry out an examination of the patient before the hearing and to take any steps that they consider necessary to form an opinion of the patient's mental condition. At the hearing they, together with the other members, have the judicial responsibility of deciding whether or not the patient should continue to be detained. If the medical member's opinion of the patient differs significantly from other medical witnesses then this should be made known at the beginning of the hearing. This is because it would be unfair and contrary to a basic principle of natural justice if the Tribunal members were to take notice of information that had not been shared with all the other parties at the hearing. The medical member is invariably a consultant psychiatrist of several years' standing. He or she will be able to advise the other members of the Tribunal on any medical matters.

Role of the lay member

The lay member provides balance to the Tribunal as a representative of the community outside the legal and medical professions. Most of them will have a background of practical experience of working in the health and welfare fields in the NHS, voluntary organisations or private health sector.

Course of the tribunal

Tribunals normally sit in private and take place in the hospital or community unit where the patient is detained. Physical location aside, the tribunals resemble court hearings, during which appropriate witnesses are invited to speak in turn. These include the detained person, his or her solicitor, the consultant psychiatrist responsible for the detained person's care in hospital (also known as the Responsible Medical Officer or RMO), a representative of the nursing staff at the hospital and the Approved Social Worker (ASW). Additionally, the RMO and ASW (or more frequently the patient's care coordinator) are required to submit written reports on the person's state of health to the Tribunal in advance of the hearing. Sometimes the primary inpatient nurse for the patient may also submit a written report.

How the decision is made

Each member of the Tribunal is entitled to an equal voice on questions of law, procedure and substance. All the members participate in the making of decisions and, although the legal member is expected to draft and sign the written record, this is done only after taking into account the contributions of the other members. If the members do not all agree then a decision of the majority of members of the Tribunal is taken as the decision of the Tribunal.

The Tribunal will consider the case and the patient as presented on the day. The Tribunal cannot question the circumstances that gave rise to the detention. The Tribunal decides whether or not to end the patient's detention in hospital. The Tribunal has the power to order a deferred discharge which may be conditional (for example that an aftercare package is put in place).

Decisions of the Tribunal can be appealed in the High Court, usually by way of Judicial Review.

Regional chairmen

There is a Regional Chairman appointed for each of the two Tribunal regions (the North Region and the South Region), based in London and Manchester. Regional Chairmen's responsibilities include appointing members to particular hearings, ensuring that all the statutory requirements are complied with, making judicial decisions and giving such directions as are necessary to ensure the speedy and just determination of every case. Regional Chairmen are also responsible for organising training for members, for overseeing the members' appraisal and mentoring scheme and for handling complaints about a member's conduct.

Organisation of the Tribunal

The Secretary of State for Health is responsible for meeting the expenses of Tribunals in England and for providing accommodation and staff. Administration is carried out at the Secretariat offices in Leicester. The Welsh Assembly has similar responsibilities for Tribunals in Wales and administration is carried out at the Secretariat office in Cardiff. All the Secretariat staff are civil servants and are completely independent of the hospital authorities. The Regional Chairmen and the Secretariat work closely together to make sure that the whole Tribunal process is closely managed. The role of the Home Office is confined to cases involving 'restricted patients'. Tribunals operate independently of all Government Departments.

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