Press Release

Minister announces main features of new Mental Health Bill

Brian Cowen, T.D., Minister for Health and Children, today (22 September 1999) announced that the Government has approved the main features of the new Mental Health Bill, which will be published during the forthcoming Dáil session.

The Mental Health Bill, 1999 will significantly improve existing provisions in relation to mentally disordered persons involuntarily admitted for psychiatric care and treatment and will bring Irish mental health law into conformity with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Bill’s main features in this regard are –

  • The establishment of an independent body, the Mental Health Commission, to ensure that the interests of persons with a mental illness or a mental disorder are protected and to oversee the process of independent review of involuntary admission to psychiatric centres by Mental Health Tribunals.
  • When a person is involuntarily admitted for psychiatric care and treatment, the consultant psychiatrist who makes the decision to admit is obliged to inform the person of his or her legal rights under the legislation.
  • Each decision to involuntarily admit a person for psychiatric care and treatment will be reviewed automatically by an independent Mental Health Tribunal, consisting of a lawyer and a consultant psychiatrist, operating under the auspices of the proposed Mental Health Commission. The review will be completed within twenty eight days of a person’s involuntary admission.
  • The purpose of each review will be to determine whether the person concerned is suffering from a mental disorder as defined in the Bill and whether the correct procedures have been followed in admitting the person involuntarily for treatment.
  • The Mental Health Commission will arrange, on behalf of each person admitted on an involuntary basis, for independent assessment by a consultant psychiatrist of that person and will provide free legal representation for all who wish to avail of it.
  • A Mental Health Tribunal will have powers to call witnesses and to hear oral evidence. The person who has been involuntarily admitted will have the right to be informed about any hearing and to attend and put his or her case to the tribunal in person or through a legal representative.
  • A decision to admit a person involuntarily for treatment will be valid for 28 days, at which point it may be renewed by the consultant psychiatrist responsible for the care and treatment of the patient concerned. The initial renewal will be valid for 3 months, then it may be extended by 6 months, then by 12 months and renewed annually thereafter.
  • Each decision to renew an involuntary admission order will be subject automatically to independent review by a Mental Health Tribunal, as described above. Accordingly, the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and European Human Rights Case Law for a review of the substantive grounds of detention automatically at reasonable intervals will be met.
  • A decision of a tribunal to extend a period of involuntary admission beyond an initial term of twenty eight days may be appealed through the Courts.
  • All of the provisions in the Bill regarding independent review will apply to existing detainees as well as to those who will be admitted involuntarily in the future.