What is the Mental Health Tribunal?
The Tribunal is an independent panel of people who have the power to discharge a person from the Mental Health Act.
If you are detained (sectioned) under the Mental Health Act or on a Community Treatment Order (CTO), you have the right to ask the Tribunal to look at your case. This is called ‘appealing’ to the Tribunal.
The panel will have three members:
- A judge, who will chair the panel
- A medical member, who will be a psychiatrist (but independent of your hospital)
- A lay person – a professional with relevant experience
The meeting will usually be held in a room at the hospital where you are detained, or a suitable location if you are on a CTO.
Who can apply to the Tribunal?
If you are detained on a Section 2, Section 3 or Section 37 you can apply for a Tribunal. You can also apply if you are subject to guardianship or on a CTO.
An Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA) can help you to apply.
The hospital can provide you with details of solicitors who specialise in Tribunals. You are entitled to Legal aid to pay for a mental health solicitor, so it will not cost you anything.
If your nearest relative has been prevented from discharging you from a section or a CTO, they can also appeal to the Tribunal.
When can I apply to the Tribunal?
If you are on a section 2 you can apply in the first 14 days of your section. Your hearing should take place within a week.
If you are on a section 3, you can apply once at any time in the first six months. If your section is renewed, you can apply once in each renewal period.
If you are on a section 37, you cannot apply for the first six months. You can apply once if it is renewed and then once in each renewal period.
If you are on a CTO, you can apply once at any time in the first six months. If your CTO is extended, you can apply once in each extension period.
If you are on a section 3 or a CTO and your nearest relative has been prevented from discharging you, they can apply for a tribunal within 28 days of your discharge being prevented.
Who will be at the hearing?
Apart from the panel, the following people will be there:
- You, unless you choose not to attend
- Your solicitor or representative, if you have appointed one
- Your responsible clinician
- Your social worker, or other people involved in your care
- A nurse
- A tribunal clerk, who will take notes
- Your IMHA or other advocate (if you have asked them to be there)
- Your nearest relative (unless you have told the Tribunal you don’t want them to be there)
- A carer, family member or friend (if you want them to be there)
What will happen at the hearing?
The meeting is formal, because it is a legal process, but the panel will try to put you at your ease. You and your solicitor do not have to ‘prove’ anything. The clinical team must prove that you should stay detained or on a CTO.
The normal procedure is:
- The judge introduces the panel and describes what the hearing is about
- If the medical member of the panel has seen you he or she will talk about your meeting
- Your responsible clinician will be questioned by each member of the panel and your solicitor. The same will happen with the nurse and the social worker
- You will be given the opportunity to speak to the panel. Your solicitor may ask you some questions first, then the panel will ask you some questions
- If your nearest relative or other family, friends or carers have attended, the panel may ask them questions
- Your solicitor will summarise
What decisions can the Tribunal make?
The Tribunal can decide:
- To leave you on your section or CTO
- To recommend that your responsible clinician considers discharging you on a CTO
- To defer your discharge – this means that your section will be lifted in a few days. This is usually to allow follow-up arrangements to be made
- To discharge you from your section or CTO. If you are in hospital, this does not mean that you have to leave immediately, you can agree to stay in hospital as a voluntary patient, but you do not have to
When will I find out the Tribunal's decision?
The Tribunal will normally decide at the hearing, and you will be told there and then. You will receive a written decision with reasons within a few days of the hearing.
Real life experience
I was admitted to hospital because I was very distressed and was expressing thoughts of suicide. I had been self-harming because it helped me to cope with my distress and enabled me to just about keep going. In hospital all the items I had brought with me to help me cope were taken away. I was left on the ward just as distressed but now with my way of coping taken away. I was desperate and the alternative of talking to someone just didn’t help and a lot of the time there was no-one available to talk to anyway. I decided that I didn’t want to be in hospital anymore.
When I tried to leave I was prevented by the nursing staff and told I would have to see a doctor before I could go. I was told I was being put on a Section 5 which within a few days had become a Section 3. I was now in hospital for treatment for up to six months. Needless to say I was really very unhappy with this decision and very angry though with hindsight I do understand the reasons why the section was applied. However, at the time, my immediate reaction was to disagree with the section and to do what I could to get off it so that I could go home. I applied as soon as I could for a Mental Health Review Tribunal.
I was allocated a solicitor by the hospital who was free of charge under the Legal Aid scheme and a date was arranged for the tribunal. The tribunal is an independent panel which can decide whether you should be allowed to leave the hospital. I met with my solicitor in advance and we talked through the whole situation and why I felt I should be taken off the section and allowed to go home. Before the tribunal one of the members came to talk to me as well. The tribunal itself was held in the hospital and was a hearing setting out to consider whether the legal criteria for my detention were still met. If it was decided that they weren’t I would have been able to be discharged.
I spoke at the tribunal as well as my solicitor, though had I not wanted to the solicitor could have spoken for me. I can’t remember everyone that was in the room but my named nurse was there arguing for the section to be kept in place which was really quite distressing to have to hear. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to be discharged from the section but fortunately it wasn’t long after that I was able to have leave and be discharged from hospital. The section remained however until the 6 months were up.