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Court of Appeal provides clarification on the application of extension of time provisions for the detention of persons under the Mental Health Act 2001



On 5th May 2022 the Court of Appeal delivered a judgment following an appeal from a decision of the High Court in an enquiry pursuant to Article 40.4.2 of the Constitution into the legality of the appellant’s detention at an approved centre pursuant to the Mental Health Act 2001 (as amended) ("the Act"). These types of applications are commonly known as habeus corpus applications.

The judgment of the Court of Appeal considered the issue of statutory interpretation concerning extensions of time made by a Mental Health Tribunal pursuant to s.18(4) of the Act.

Facts of the case

The appellant, B, was admitted to the approved centre initially arising from events on the 26 May 2021 after the Gardaí were called to his family home and formed the belief that he was a risk to his mother and were not satisfied to leave him in the house with her. Events culminated in an admission order being made by a consultant psychiatrist on the same date pursuant to s.14 of the Act. No issue arose in respect of the lawfulness of any step taken prior to the making of the admission order or the admission order itself.

Admission Order

A Mental Health Tribunal convened on 11 June 2021 and decided that due to a conflict in witness evidence, the order should be extended by 14 days to make a decision to affirm or revoke the admission order.

On 23 June 2021 the Tribunal reconvened and affirmed the admission order. The Tribunal found that continuation of the order would be likely to benefit or alleviate his condition to a material extent. The tribunal considered that it would not be possible to treat him in a less restrictive manner outside the hospital setting.

Renewal Order

On the 28 June 2021, five days later, the responsible consultant psychiatrist signed a renewal order extending the detention for a further period, to end on the 27 September 2021.

The central submission made on behalf of the Appellant was that the renewal order was made by the consultant psychiatrist after the lawful period of detention had expired, and was therefore invalid and he was being illegally detained. The Appellant submitted that his lawful detention expired either 14 days from the date of the Tribunal's decision to extend, or on the actual date of the Tribunal's decision. The respondent submitted that the 14 days referred to under s.18(4) is added on to the 21 days following the date of admission. In this case, this is a total of 35 days from the 26 May, so the date of renewal order fell before the expiry of lawful detention.

In the High Court, Mr Justice Barr was satisfied that the appellant's detention was in accordance with the law and declined to direct his release pursuant to Article 40.4 of the Constitution. He held that the 14 day extension operates from the end of the initial 21 day detention period and so the detention was lawful when the renewal order was made on 28 June 2021.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court. It concluded that the High Court correctly interpreted s.18(4). It held that an Order extending a period of detention by 14 days operates to extend the period of the initial 21 days from the date of the admission order, amounting to a total period of 35 days from that date. In doing so, it applied a literal interpretation of the legislation.

If a person is to continue to be detained after those 35 days, there must be an appropriate renewal order by a consultant psychiatrist in place on or from the last day of that 35 days.

This clarification on the interpretation of s.18(4) provides certainty to both mental health practitioners and legal professionals advising in this particular area of law.

The judgment can be found here.

Written by Zoe Richardson, Sinéád Keogh and Hannah Torpey.

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