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Appealing to the Mental Health Tribunal during the Covid-19 pandemic

What is the current procedure?

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak steps have been taken to limit the number of public meetings. This includes Court hearings and Mental Health Tribunals. In accordance with Government advice regarding ‘social distancing’ the Tribunal Service has made changes to the procedure for Mental Health Tribunals.

As a result of these changes, any application made ‘post-lockdown’ (from approx. 23 March onwards) or any case for which a listing date was provided after this time will not be considered by a panel consisting of a Judge, Medical Member and Specialist Lay Member, as was previously the case. Instead the case will be heard by a Judge only. If the Judge feels that it is necessary to consult with a Medical Member or Specialist Lay Member then they will be available by telephone, but will not be actively involved in the hearing. Any case for which a listing date was provided ‘pre-lockdown’ (before 23 March 2020) should still be heard by a full panel. However, no pre-hearing examination of the patient will take place in either circumstance.

What is the new procedure?

Mental Health Tribunal hearings have been taking place via telephone conference but there is now a move towards video conferencing. The patient’s participation remains encouraged and both the legal representative and nursing team can assist them in joining the hearing remotely. The Responsible Clinician, Nursing team and Community Mental Health Team will all be expected to produce reports in advance of the hearing and join the conference remotely to present their evidence before the Judge. At the end of the hearing, the Judge should contact both the legal representative and responsible authority to give a preliminary decision, full reasons for which will follow in writing within 3-5 days of the hearing taking place.

The recent Government Bill regarding Covid-19 allows for the time limits within the Mental Health Act to be temporarily ignored. At present priority is being given to listing Section 2 appeals, recall of conditionally discharged restricted patients and cases involving minors. However, this does not mean that others, including patients subject to a Community Treatment Order, cannot appeal. For Section 3 cases there should not be too much of a delay and patients will more often than not find their appeal is listed and heard within the usual 4-6 week period. For community patients, such as those subject to a Community Treatment Order, hearings are currently postponed until the end of ‘social distancing.’

How we can help

We appreciate that procedure will feel very different to that of Tribunals which our clients may have experienced in the past. This is an unprecedented situation and one which we are all having to adapt to, but please rest assured this will not affect the thoroughness with which we will prepare a case. We have all of the facilities we require to take clients’ instructions and participate in hearings remotely.

Our team are contactable as usual, it is only our visits to the ward which are currently limited. We can speak to clients via telephone in advance of the hearing in order to discuss the reports which have been prepared for the Tribunal. If preferred, we can communicate with clients via email or video conference instead.

Contact

For further information or advice please contact John Cavener via john.cavener@davidgray.co.uk or call 0191 232 9547 ext. 1706. We have several web pages around Mental Health and the law which may also be of use.

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