Orla Keane: Mental Health Tribunals continued to take place throughout the pandemic10 June 2021
Every person detained in an approved mental health centre against their will is reviewed by a panel of independent people to ensure that the person is detained in accordance with the law. These reviews – known as mental health tribunals – must be held within 21 days of the order detaining the person. The person is provided with supports as part of the review process; they will be assigned an independent legal representative to advise them and an independent psychiatrist will be appointed to speak to them, their doctor and review their records following which they shall produce a report.
Being involuntarily detained in an approved centre is a very difficult experience for any person. The global pandemic in 2020 exacerbated this difficulty. The MHC took the view that it was imperative that the rights of those detained continued to be vindicated and that the review process must continue during the pandemic regardless of the challenges in terms of keeping people safe and ensuring the supporting legal framework was in place to hold hearings remotely.
Our first commitment to persons involuntarily detained was to ensure the review of every detention order was done within the statutory time limits in the legislation.
Our second commitment was to provide information in the form of leaflets and booklets for patients to explain how remote tribunals would be conducted. These documents are available in eight different languages and in audio format on our website. In addition, a revised, more patient-centred booklet for persons involuntarily detained was issued – Know your Rights.
Our third commitment was that all queries were addressed and dealt with in the same timeline that would have been adhered to pre COVID-19.
Following the first COVID-19 lockdown the first remote tribunal took place on 18 March 2020, and by 31 March 2020 all tribunals took place remotely. To assist with the remote process, guidance was issued to all independent panel members.
Now in June 2021 all mental health tribunals are held via video calls (this has been impacted due to the cyber-attack on the HSE). This format is preferred by patients and shall be used until in-person hearings can resume, which we hope shall occur in the next few months.
While the MHC very much appreciated the introduction of many of the measures in the emergency legislation, we are glad to report that many of those measures were not required. For example, all reviews were done by a three-member panel and only consultants on the MHC panel were appointed to carry out functions.
The Mental Health Tribunals team continues to keep the patient at the centre of this process, ensuring their safety and human rights are respected.
We thank the persons involuntarily detained for their patience; we know this has not been an easy time for them. We thank the mental health act administrators, treating consultant psychiatrists, independent consultant psychiatrists, legal representatives and tribunal panel members and many others for their support and assistance in ensuring tribunals were held throughout the pandemic and services were not interrupted.
If you want further information about what happens at a tribunal, click here.
If you want to track the number of hearings and tribunal data, click here.
Information for patients can be accessed here.
This piece was written to accompany our second report into the effects of Covid-19 on mental health services. You can read our full report here.
Orla Keane is the General Counsel of the MHC and leads the Mental Health Tribunal team.