Thursday law report: County court could make interim order

18 March 1999

Regina v Central London County Court and another, ex parte London

Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, Lord Justice Henry and Lord Justice Robert Walker) 15 March 1999

THE COUNTY court had jurisdiction to make ex parte or interim orders for displacement of a patient's nearest relative under section 29(3)(c) of the Mental Health Act 1983, but it was generally preferable that questions under section 29(3)(c) should be finally determined before an application was made for the patient's compulsory admission to hospital under section 3.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant's appeal against the dismissal of his application for judicial review of two orders of the county court displacing his mother as his nearest relative for the purposes of the Mental Health Act 1983, and a decision to admit him compulsorily to hospital for treatment.

The applicant had a long history of schizophrenia with admissions to hospital since 1985. His mother was the statutory nearest relative under section 26 of the Mental Health Act 1983. On 5 March 1996 an approved social worker applied under section 4 of the 1983 Act for emergency admission of the applicant to hospital. On 6 March the applicant was regraded to a section 2 patient, i.e. one who had been admitted for assessment.

On 8 March a county court judge, purporting to act under section 29(3)(c) of the Act, made an order on an ex parte application purporting to displace the applicant's mother as his nearest relative until further order, on the the ground that she had unreasonably objected to the making of an application for admission for treatment. He ordered that the matter be relisted for 15 March so that consideration might be given to the continuance of the order.

On 15 March the application to displace the applicant's mother was considered inter partes by another county court judge, who made an order continuing the previous order until 3 April. On 22 March the social services department, purporting to act as the applicant's nearest relative, applied for his compulsory admission to hospital for treatment under section 3 of the Act. The hospital admitted him, relying on the county court orders.

The applicant applied for judicial review of the county court orders of 8 and 15 March 1996 on the ground that the county court had no jurisdiction to make ex parte or interim orders but only to make final orders; and of the decision of the hospital managers of 22 March purporting to admit him for treatment under section 3 of the Act, on the ground that, if the county court orders were void, the admission was unlawful. His application was dismissed, and he appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Nigel Pleming QC and Rabinder Singh (Gill & Co) for the applicant; Christopher Katkowski (Treasury Solicitor) for the county court; Presiley Baxendale QC and Gerard Clarke (Radcliffes) for the hospital managers.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said that the general power in section 38 of the County Courts Act 1984 to make any order which could be made by the High Court if the proceedings were in the High Court was not expressly excluded by the Mental Health Act 1983.

Parliament had to be taken to have enacted the 1983 Act in the light of the existing powers of the court, and simply because the machinery existed in section 29(4) of the 1983 Act for the extension of the period for which a patient was liable to be detained by virtue of an application for admission for assessment until an application under section 29(3)(c) or (d) for the displacement of the patient's nearest relative had been finally disposed of, it did not necessarily mean that more general powers were excluded.

Accordingly, the county court had had jurisdiction to make the orders of 8 and 15 March, and it followed that the hospital's admission of the applicant under section 3 was not unlawful. It was, however, preferable that, unless there were cogent reasons to the contrary, questions under section 29(3)(c) should be finally determined before an application for compulsory admission under section 3 were made.

Kate O'Hanlon

Barrister

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