Judges rule on mental health tribunal case

Where a Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT) has committed an
unlawful act, the high court can overturn that tribunal’s decision
and deal with the matter anew taking into account the circumstances
of the case.

Mr DE appealed to the court of appeal which dealt with the
matter on 13 November 2001. He wanted the court to reverse the
decision of Mr Justice Scott Baker on 6 March 2001. The case is
named DE (A Patient) -v- Wirral Health Authority, Wirral Borough
Council and Mental Health Review Tribunal and Wirral and West
Cheshire Community NHS Trust and Ashworth Hospital Authority
(interested parties).

Mr DE was sentenced to four years imprisonment in May 1992 for
an offence of making threats to kill, and should have been released
in February 1994. However, he was transferred to Ashworth Special
Hospital in March 1993 under section 47(1) Mental Health Act 1983
(MHA). That order was made in conjunction with a section 49
restriction direction, which effectively meant that DE had had a
restriction order made under section 41 of the Mental Health

The restriction direction expired in February 1994, on the day
that DE was due to have been released from his original sentence.
Following the restriction direction’s expiration, DE was treated as
if he had been admitted to Ashworth under a hospital order. This
meant that he was treated as if he had originally been sentenced by
the court to a hospital order under section 37 of the MHA.

On 4 April 2000, DE applied for his case to be reviewed by a
MHRT which directed his release on 8 January 2001. Dr F replaced Dr
K as DE’s responsible medical officer. Dr K had been supportive of
DE’s release.

On 5 January 2001, the status of DE’s continuing detention was
changed into a compulsory admission for treatment under section 3
of the MHA. In addition, Dr F released DE from his section 37
hospital order.

On 18 January 2001, Wirral Borough Council applied for a
judicial review of the decision of the MHRT and on 23 February 2001
they applied to challenge Dr F’s decision to release DE from his
hospital order. Scott Baker granted both applications on 6 March

Mr DE appealed against that decision on grounds querying whether
it was possible for a court to reconstitute a criminal sentence
when it had come to an end. He argued that although Scott Baker
quashed the MHRT’s decision, the power to detain him under section
37 could no longer be revived. Lords Justice Clarke, Mance and
Dyson dismissed DE’s submissions and held that :

1. The judge had rightly concluded that if a decision of the
court was quashed on appeal it would become a nullity. That being
so, the judge was entitled to consider the next course of action,
which did not mean DE’s automatic discharge.

2. Where a tribunal had committed an unlawful act, a court can
declare such an act as unlawful, quash that tribunal’s decision and
re-direct matters afresh. The court must take into account the
facts and circumstances of the case in granting any relief.

3. The correct analysis was that when Scott Baker made an order
quashing the MHRT’s decision because it was unlawful, the decision
to release DE was to be regarded as if it had never been made.

Bernadette Livesey

Human Rights Solicitor

Walker Morris



More from Community Care

Comments are closed.