Mental health tribunal law change welcomed by MP

MP SARAH Champion has welcomed the government adopting her recommendation to change the law to allow victims to have a voice in mental health tribunals.

While victims of crime are able to provide impact statements for consideration in cases heard by the parole board, no such provision currently exists for cases before the mental health tribunal which are carried out behind closed doors.

Last summer Sarah sought to amend the Victims and Prisoners Bill. During the bill’s committee stage, she argued: “At mental health tribunals, victims cannot make any personal statements. They are not allowed to attend the hearing, do not receive decisions and have no means of challenging any decision, because they are made in secret and not publicly disclosed.

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“There is a very high rate of reoffending by such patients on their release. A recent long-term academic study found that 44 per cent of offenders discharged from a medium-secure psychiatric unit were reconvicted following release, mostly for assault. Nearly 30 per cent were convicted of a grave offence such as robbery, arson, wounding, attempted murder or rape. Another study of patients released from high-secure psychiatric wards found that 38 per cent were reconvicted, 26 per cent of them for serious offences. These are very sensitive cases that may raise broader concerns about processes, but victims and families deserve access to information, just as they would if the case went through the criminal justice system.”

The government has now tabled an amendment to the bill, currently in the House of Lords, accepting Sarah’s recommendation.

Sarah said: “By refusing victims of crime the opportunity to make an impact statement, victims are not only denied a voice, but tribunals themselves are denied the chance to consider key information when determining conditions of an offender-patient’s discharge.

“I am proud and grateful that the government has listened to my arguments and agreed to make this crucial change.

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“This legal change will deliver a greater sense of justice to victims of crime and improve the quality of decision making by the tribunal.

“I became aware of this legal injustice through a constituent who was murdered in hospital. I was privileged to work with Hundred Families to support my constituents family and work with the government to secure this landmark change.”

Julian Hendy, of Hundred Families, which supports families affected by mental-health homicides, said: “This is a very welcome step. We’re very grateful to Sarah for her vital support on this key issue for our families.

“Tribunals need to be far more open and transparent in the way they operate for the public to have confidence in the system.

“Anything that can be done to help tribunals take better decisions, such as listening to victims, can only be helpful.”

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