Irish Court of Appeal finds detention review under Mental Health Act unconstitutional

In AB v St. Loman’s Hospital, the Court of Appeal found that a patient who was involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Act 2001 was denied adequate opportunity to initiate a review of his detention, which amounted to a breach of his right to personal liberty as granted under the Constitution. Earlier the High Court had ruled that the lack of review mechanism for those detained by way of renewal order for a period of twelve months under the Mental Health Act 2001 was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (click here for further commentary). The declaration of unconstitutionality has been suspended for six months so that the laws can be enacted to address the situation. However, it was noted by Justice Gerard Hogan on behalf of the Court that the find of unconstitutionality demands an ‘immediate and imperative response’ on the part of the Oireachtas and the Government.

By way of background the applicant, who suffered from learning and behavioural issues, was involuntarily detained in a psychiatric ward for up to 16 months. His detention was extended by renewal order for a period of six weeks, then three months and finally twelve months, despite the fact that his consultant psychiatrist declared, at six months, that he had made such an improvement that he was fit to be discharged. He was not provided with the opportunity to challenge the legality of his detention or to request a review of the twelve month renewal order.

The applicant had been subjected to renewal orders under Section 15(3) of the Mental Health Act, a provision which the Court of Appeal found to be unconstitutional. The Court declared that ‘‘an involuntary patient detained under S.15(3) for a period of up to twelve months does not have an effective means of vindicating his right to personal liberty by securing an independent review of that detention.’’ Therefore, the Irish government had failed to uphold the patient’s right to personal liberty due to the lack of opportunity available for him to have his detention reviewed within a reasonable time.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission was admitted as an amicus in the case and used this status to identify significant human rights issues including the right to personal liberty, and the right to an effective remedy under the European Convention on Human Rights. Click here for a copy of its submissions.  In welcoming the Court’s ruling the IHREC stated: ‘‘the right to liberty is expressly protected under our Constitution, and the protections provided under that right have been further clarified by the Court of Appeal today. This decision underlines the need for people to have reasonable and timely opportunities to have their detention reviewed, as their circumstances may change.’’

Click here for press release by the Irish Human Rights Commission on the case.

Click here for a copy of the judgement.

Click here for further commentary on the case. 



Sustaining Partners