31st October 2022
Noel Baker of the Irish Examiner writes about Irish Penal Reform Trust launch of an independently commissioned scoping study on access to rights for people detained in secure forensic mental health facilities in Ireland, which took place on Tuesday 25 October 2022. The report was titled 'Access to Rights for People Detained in Secure Forensic Mental Health Facilities in Ireland'.
Read the full article in the Irish Examiner here. (paywalled)
Text of article can be read below:
People detained in the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) are not afforded all their rights, according to a new report which highlights how one person was detained there but deemed unfit to plead since the 1970s.
The report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust suggested "the fitness to plead regime raises several human rights concerns".
Most notably, it said, it may lead to an extended period of detention in the CMH, as noted by a staff member working in the National Forensic Mental Health Service (NFMHS).
It also said: "There is no limit on the length of time an individual can be detained under a finding of unfitness to plead. One staff member working in the NFMHS noted a case where an individual had been held in the CMH due to a finding of unfitness to plead since the 1970s."
The contributions came from people working in the sector, as well as a lawyer and other stakeholders, though not from any people actually detained in the CMH.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust commissioned researchers from the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the University of Galway to carry out the report, with support from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
The report said the Mental Health (Criminal Law) Review Board estimates that between 80 and 90 people are detained in the CMH at any one time, but this can fluctuate.
"Most individuals in the CMH are detained as a result of a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity [75% of Review Board hearings]," it said.
"Smaller numbers of people are detained due to a determination of unfitness to be tried (12%) or due to voluntary or involuntary transfer from the prison setting (13%)."
According to the lawyer interviewed: "Often they [people at risk of detention] do not want to run the defence of insanity which would leave them without a conviction".
It would "leave the slate clean" with no end in sight, the lawyer added;
"It horrifies and frightens clients because at least if somebody gets a sentence or a suspended sentence, they've a date on the door, they can walk out. He or she can walk out. Not so, under the section 13 review system."
Other potential infringements of rights were also raised in the report, including "the blanket use of night-time confinement", and higher rates of use of restrictive practices.
"Many of the concerns raised by interview participants were focused on the physical infrastructure and issues with the current CMH campus that they hoped would be addressed by the move to the new facility.
"However, the management of the move, and the impact that it has had on patients was criticised by a significant cohort of those interviewed."
Recommendations included increased transparency on the basis for detention, offering mental health treatment outside CMH for those unfit to plead and for individuals who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, and increasing visiting hours and remote visiting options.
Saoirse Brady, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said: "It is clear from this study that people with psychosocial disabilities who are currently detained in the CMH are not afforded the rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty which Ireland ratified in 2018."
Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.