Mental Health Tribunals - what they are and how they work
Mental Health Tribunals
If you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 you are entitled to apply to the Mental Health Tribunal to seek discharge. The number of applications you can make, and the timing of these applications depends on your section.
The Mental Health Tribunal is a First Tier Tribunal. It takes place at the hospital in which you are detained. If you are on a section 2, then your Tribunal will aim to be listed within 7 days of your application. The Tribunal will be listed between 6-8 weeks after an application made under section 3, and 10-16 weeks for applications made under other sections.
There are limits on the number of applications you can make to the Tribunal. For the civil sections, 2 and 3, you are entitled to one application per section, or renewed section. For the criminal sections the rules are slightly more complicated.
What is a Tribunal?
A Mental Health Tribunal panel will independently review your detention and decide whether the requirements of the Mental Health Act are met to justify your section. If the care team cannot prove that the requirements are met, then the Tribunal will discharge you. The Tribunal can also make recommendations regarding your care if they decide not to discharge you.
The Mental Health Tribunal is heard by a three-member panel. The members include a medical member, who will be a qualified mental health doctor, a legal member, who chairs the panel and has experience in practising mental health law, and a specialist lay person, who has mental health experience of some kind. They decide together whether your continued detention is justified.
Before the Tribunal
As your legal representative, we will be provided with reports before your Tribunal. These will be prepared by members of your care team, including your Responsible Clinician. For a section 2, we receive these reports on the day of the hearing. For other sections, we receive the reports further in advance.
The reports are provided to show why your care team considers your continued detention to be in your best interest. They should show that the statutory criteria of the Mental Health Act 1983 are met to justify your detention. The role of your legal representative at the Tribunal is to challenge whether these criteria are satisfied. To do so, your legal representative will review reports with you before the Tribunal.
You are also able to be assessed prior to the Tribunal by the Medical Member. This is an automatic right if you are on section 2 but must be requested on other sections. The Medical Member is independent of the hospital and will report his findings to the panel before the Tribunal. We will also be able to hear a summary of their findings at the outset of the Tribunal.
What happens at a Tribunal?
Your Responsible Clinician, a representative of the nursing staff and a Care Co-ordinator or Social Worker will attend your Tribunal. They will explain the reports they have written and will be cross examined by the panel members and your legal representative. Each member of the panel will take it in turns to question the respective members of the care team, starting with your Responsible Clinician. When the panel have finished with their questioning, your legal representative will be able to present their questions to the them. The Responsible Clinician’s evidence is followed by the nursing representative and then the Social Worker or Care Co-ordinator.
You can choose whether to attend the Tribunal. You are entitled to give evidence yourself, and your legal representative will help you form your narrative through asking questions at the end of the hearing. You may also be asked questions by members of the panel.
When all the evidence has been heard, the Tribunal panel will retire to make a decision on your detention. If they believe that the care team have not proved that the statutory criteria for detention have been met, then they will direct your discharge. If they believe that your detention has been justified, then they will not discharge you but have the option to make directions if required.
After the Tribunal
After the Tribunal you will receive a written copy of your Tribunal decision. This will be available within five working days. Your legal representative will review the decision for legality. The decision can only be appealed if there is an error of law, not an error of fact.
Mental Health Tribunals are one of the routes to discharge from detention under the Mental Health Act 1983. Our mental health team are experienced in Tribunal representation. If you wish to apply to the Mental Health Tribunal seeking discharge, then please contact our office on 020 7976 2233 and ask to speak to a member of the Mental Health Team.
By Philippa Wheeler, paralegal to Chuma Oraedu