Exclusive: Mental health tribunal system in chaos

Chaos within the mental health tribunal system is leading to
lengthy delays and short-notice cancellations of hearings, causing
psychiatric patients “immense distress and anguish”,
Community Care has been told, writes Sally

Leading mental health lawyer Peter Edwards, who has more than 30
years’ experience in the field and is a chief assessor for
the Mental Health Review Tribunal, slammed the system as a

“The scandal is every bit as great as the child support
scandal,” he said.

The problems are being linked to the closure of tribunal offices
in Nottingham and Liverpool in 2004, when operations were
centralised at two London offices.

Richard Charlton, chair of the Mental Health Lawyers
Association, which represents lawyers who give evidence to
tribunals, said the problems had been caused by “clear

He predicted there would be several cases brought under human
rights legislation by people whose hearings had been
“unacceptably delayed”.

Edwards said tribunal reports were sometimes sent to the wrong
hospital and hearings were cancelled because only two of the three
legally required members turned up.

In other cases six people instead of three had turned up, while
he had heard of one where nine people arrived for a hearing.

Charlton said administrative errors were partly being caused by
a database that did not have the capacity to hold the number of
hearings, so when new ones were added it began deleting other cases
before they had been heard.

A social worker and lay tribunal member, who did not wish to be
named, said he had at times been scheduled to sit on three
tribunals in a day because of administrative errors.

“I have been to tribunals where no reports have been sent
to me and I’ve had to go early on the day to read
them,” he added. “With the best will in the world that
is not good practice.”

He also said it was clear that some of the people involved in
the administration of tribunals were unfamiliar with
England’s geography because he had been asked to sit on
tribunals far away from where he was based.

The Department of Health said the closure of the two offices was
designed to “improve the efficiency of the MHRT
operations”, and that it planned to replace the database.

A spokesperson also stated the DH was looking into the reasons
for adjournments.

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