We live in times where it appears that there is an epidemic of people presenting to accident and emergency departments all over Ireland and other health professionals suffering with mental health problems. Healthcare professionals and service users alike complain about lack of resources and wider understanding about the challenges facing mental health service users. One just has to look and the negative way crimes involving people with mental illness are reported in the mainstream and social media. Often, families bear the brunt of the difficulty when dealing with a family member or close relative, partner who is suffering from a mental health problem and possibly lacks the insight to know that they are not well. Statistics on suicide in Ireland show the reality that people are suffering with mental health problems, often in silence and un-diagnosed. In our practice we unfortunately see a lot of clients with mental health problems who eventually come into contact with the criminal justice system, simply because they may perhaps be depressed, paranoid, psychotic or behaving erratically in a manner that requires emergency psychiatric treatment and ideally diversion away from the criminal justice system. Sometimes matters come to a head where members of the Gardai who often don’t have adequate mental health training, end up arresting people who have a mental disorder. A mental disorder may in fact be excusing circumstance in law, but the crime that the person is alleged to have committed may legally not be a crime due to the existence of a mental disorder.The defence of insanity applies.It’s time that word “insanity”was changed it’s outdated in my view.It is important that in addition to medical and psychiatric referral that a person with a mental health problem in a brush with our criminal law is given access to a solicitor or other legal advice. Regrettably, at the moment there isn’t any legislation which for example provides that a person who is arrested under section 12 of the mental health act of 2001 is entitled to have advice from a solicitor in a Garda station while arrested and detained. Police stations are not in fact approved centres under the mental health act and the legality of bringing people and keeping them for periods of time at a Garda station is open to legal challenge. Is a requirement that in order to have somebody committed under the mental health act 2001 a medical practitioner must often assess that person before making a recommendation that the person will be committed by way of admission order to approved centre.An approved centre is normally a recognised hospital with a full-time in-patient psychiatric department normally in in a general hospital setting but sometimes in a forensic or more secure setting.
The purpose of this blog is to merely point out some of the law and hopefully you’ll find it informative if you require any advice on issues regarding the mental health act, 2001 and its interaction with the criminal law please do not hesitate to contact Peter Connolly directly.