Minister considers fast-track tribunals for psychiatric patients

The government is considering proposals to introduce paper-based
and fast-track tribunals for psychiatric patients, Community Care
has learned.

Health minister Rosie Winterton was due last week to look at the
ideas put forward by mental health review tribunal judges.

But professionals have attacked the proposals and lawyers are
warning that the introduction of paper-based tribunals, for cases
deemed uncontentious, would breach the European Convention on Human
Rights. These tribunals would work on the basis of the submission
of reports rather than allowing patients to state their case
directly. Under article 6, people who have been deprived of their
liberty are entitled to a fair hearing.

Chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Andrew
McCulloch, said: “These proposals would downgrade the rights of
people under the 1983 Act. It is an extraordinary thing for a
civilised society to be suggesting. It is appalling.”

It is thought that a fast-track system could involve a single
professional deciding whether a person should be detained, and this
has led to fears about the independence of the tribunal

The system is already struggling to cope with the demands placed
on it. Community Care revealed last week that administrative
problems were leading to long delays and the cancellation of
hearings at short notice, while extra tribunal members were turning
up for some hearings.  Sources say the problems are causing
“immense distress and anguish” to psychiatric patients.

Under provisions in the draft Mental Health Bill, tribunals
would have to apply for an order to treat patients for longer than
28 days. It is estimated that the system, which deals with 20,000
hearings a year, will have its workload doubled.

Experts are predicting that the widely opposed draft Mental
Health Bill, which was expected to be reintroduced in parliament in
November, will now be delayed because issues around the tribunal
remain unresolved.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs plans to launch a
recruitment drive for lay members for mental health review
tribunals in November.

It hopes to attract people from a broader range of backgrounds,
including ex-service users.

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