Research Sector News — 18 December 2014

A ruling by Victoria’s Supreme Court could have a big impact nationally concerning mental health review boards.

The boards issue thousands of rulings annually determining whether orders to involuntarily admit patients for psychiatric care are valid.

However, until now there had been almost no cases that defined how rulings from mental health review boards could be overturned.

The court ruled in the case of a woman known as Patient X.

She has bipolar disorder, and in August, 2013, she was forced to undergo psychiatric treatment at a Melbourne hospital.

Patient X applied to what’s now known as the Victoria Mental Health Tribunal, and it eventually overturned her involuntary admission.

She was free for only a few hours before a psychiatrist soon ordered that she be readmitted.

Patient X says memories of that time are still painful.

“It’s a basic removal of your human rights,” she said.

“It was a very tough experience. I felt isolated yet again. And again my voice wasn’t being heard.”

Patient X challenged the decision to readmit her, essentially overruling the decision of the Mental Health tribunal, in Victoria’s Supreme Court.

In its decision, the Court ruled tribunal decisions can be set aside, but only if circumstances had changed significantly.207412-3x2-340x227

Legal experts said those guidelines were likely to set a precedent across the country.

“It’s very rare that such a case comes before the courts,” University of Melbourne Professor Bernadette McSherry said.

The ruling did establish that mental health tribunal decisions could be overturned, but Victoria’s Supreme Court set out rules for how that should happen.

“Making a new involuntary admission order simply because the psychiatrist disagrees with the board’s decision would be unlawful. So that provides very important clarification.”

Patient X was represented in court by Victoria Legal Aid.

The manager of its mental health advocacy program, Chris Povey, said the impact of the ruling should not be underestimated.

“There are thousands of people every year who are subject to involuntary treatment,” he said.

“This is not saying doctors can’t make their own decisions. It’s that you have to abide by expert umpire’s decision.”

Patient X may have helped establish an important legal principle, but her own individual case failed.

The court ruled in that particular situation, it was appropriate that Patient X had been readmitted to the Melbourne Hospital for treatment.

She said the establishment of clear guidelines for the respect of mental health review board decisions made pushing ahead with the challenge worth it.

“I’m a little bit disappointed of my finding,” she said.

“But it was more about trying to avoid the experience for somebody else.

“From my point of view it was making sure no-one else had to experience it.”

This article first appeared on ‘Yahoo!7 News’ on 18 December 2014.


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