Judge orders emergency hearing for detainee

A HIGH COURT judge yesterday ordered an emergency hearing to be held over the Christmas holiday to explain why a hospital had continued to detain a woman after a Mental Health Review Tribunal decided she should be freed.

The woman, who lives alone with her four children in a council flat, had hoped to be released in time to spend Christmas at home.

Mr Justice Potts ordered the psychiatrist and hospital to prepare papers for the woman's lawyers by 5pm on Christmas Eve. He said personal liberty was the overriding consideration. 'There will be a vacation judge sitting throughout Christmas and the new year. There will be a full hearing on Monday next.'

His clerk pointed out that 28 December was a bank holiday. The judge said the case should still go ahead that day, or the following day at the latest.

Eleanor Mulcohy, 39, was detained for 28 days at South Western hospital in Clapham, south London, on 21 November under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act after she lit a fire in her home. The order was signed by a psychiatrist, a general practitioner and a social worker. She appealed to the tribunal, which ruled last Monday that she should be released three days later.

But the psychiatrist immediately had her detained for a further six months under a different part, Section 3, of the Mental Health Act. Yesterday Fenella Morris, counsel for Miss Mulcohy, applied to the High Court for a writ of habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without trial, on the grounds that the correct redress in law, the tribunal, had been disregarded.

Richard Gordon, for the twin respondents, the psychiatrist Dr R E Lawrence and the Mental Health Act managers of the hospital, said there was no issue to try. The managers had acted under parallel powers after the tribunal's ruling. Mr Gordon said the psychiatrist's report, agreed by a GP and a social worker, showed the woman had suffered from long-standing hypermania.

After the case, Ms Morris said the tribunal had decided the mental illness was not 'of a nature and degree' for detention to be necessary.

It had decided Miss Mulcohy was willing to take medication as an outpatient, that she had the support of friends and relatives, and that she posed no risk to herself, her children, or to others.