Man with schizophrenia not given adequate reasons for continued detention, appeal court rules
Posted on 15th December 2022 at 22:14
The court said the man may now be entitled to seek compensation due to the tribunal’s decision
A Mental Health Tribunal failed to provide adequate reasons when it decided to continue the detention of a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, the Court of Appeal (CoA) has ruled.
The man may now be entitled to seek compensation due to the tribunal’s decision, the CoA also said.
He has a long history of mental ill-health and of discontinuing his medication which led to relapses of his schizophrenia and admissions to hospital.
His treating psychiatrist reported that his family had told of not being able to access the man’s flat because he had changed locks due to his belief that nurses had copied his keys when he was in hospital. He sent a text message to his father wondering if he should burn down his apartment building.
He had previously set fire to his father’s home, with his brother and father in it, and caused €30,000 damage. He was not charged over this and had been experiencing delusions and hearing voices at the time.
When asked by another psychiatrist, appointed by the Mental Health Commission, about setting fires, he said, when he messaged his father he was “coming down off medication at the time”.
The psychiatrist also noted he failed to speak about an episode of breaking through the roof of his apartment to get access to the upstairs neighbour or about his thoughts of harming a cotenant on the floor above.
A third psychiatrist, brought in by the man’s lawyers, agreed with his treating psychiatrist that he was correctly detained and his illness “is of both of a degree and nature to warrant ongoing detention in hospital”.
The third psychiatrist, who is from the UK, also said given the absence here of UK-style legal orders providing for treating the mentally ill in the community, he may have to be detained for the rest of his life.
He was first admitted on an involuntary basis to hospital in April 2019, and his detention was extended a number of times. In February 2021, a Mental Health Tribunal affirmed an order further detaining him for another six months.
Arising out of that decision, he brought High Court proceedings which were dismissed just as the six-month extension was coming to an end. However, the next month, he was discharged from hospital.
He nevertheless appealed the High Court decision. He had sought declarations that the renewal of his detention decision breached the tribunal’s statutory duty to give reasons for the decision and was unreasonable and irrational because of a failure to engage with the evidence. He also sought damages.
The tribunal opposed the appeal. It argued, among other things, that the reasoning and rationale underpinning the decision were readily ascertainable from its written record and that the decision was a properly reasoned one on the evidence heard by the tribunal.
On Thursday, Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh, on behalf of the three-judge appeal court, found that adequate reasons were not given in the decision.
However, she said that “only a little more by way of explanation” by the tribunal would have been sufficient to satisfy the “adequate reasons” requirement.
In a matter of such significance for the liberty of a vulnerable individual such as this man, an explanation should be “explicit and unambiguous even if it is simple and short” to demonstrate that all the evidence was properly considered and that the relevant legal criteria were fulfilled, she said.
Leaving inferences to be drawn from the decision is not sufficient, she said.
On the question of damages, she said it had “featured little” in arguments before the court other than in relation to whether the case was now pointless as he had been discharged.
In the circumstances, the judge said if he wished to pursue the issue of damages, he should do so within three weeks. If necessary, directions will then be given as to submissions and/or a hearing.
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