Mental Health Tribunals are established to decide whether following involuntary detention a person is or is not suffering from a mental disorder as defined by the Mental Health Acts 2001 to 2018. The tribunal’s role, in addition to assessing whether the patient has a mental disorder, is to establish whether the involuntary admission is in accordance with the statutory requirements of the Acts.  It is the patient’s tribunal and the patient is at the centre of the process and has the right to legal representation.

What happens at a Mental Health Tribunal in Ireland?

At the tribunal itself the patients treating psychiatrist gives his or her evidence as to why the involuntary admission order should be affirmed and both the patient and his / her legal representative has the right to challenge this evidence as has the tribunal members. On hearing all of the evidence and any legal submissions the tribunal makes its decision as to whether to affirm or revoke the order based on a majority decision if necessary.

What about the rights of the Mental Health Patient?

The 2001 Act utilises the principle of the best interest of the patient. This has generally been interpreted in a highly paternalistic manner leaving little scope for the person’s own views and references and is mostly determined from the point of view of the medical evidence.

More recently there is more of  a move away from the best interests approach referred to above  which I welcome. It is now more recognised that impaired capacity does not take away a person’s right to be listened to in important decisions about their lives and in some circumstances the best interests of the patient is not the denial of his or her right to dignity, bodily integrity and liberty.

What is the responsibility of the Mental Health Commission?

The mandate of the Mental Health Commission is to promote, encourage and foster the establishment and maintenance of high standards and good practices in the delivery of mental health services and to take all reasonable steps to protect the interest of persons detained in approved centres. (Mental Health Act 2001: Section 33)

What impact has the Coronavirus pandemic had on tribunals?

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic tribunals have been taking place remotely for well over twelve months at this stage but thankfully resumption of tribunals in person in the approved centres is returning. This is very welcome news given the importance to the tribunal of being able to meet the patient in person to listen to his / her views on their involuntary detention.

For more information on Mental Health Tribunals, and legal issues related to Mental Health please contact Associate Solicitor Paul Cunney, who has chaired Mental Health Tribunals since 2017.