Landmark Public Interest Battle Looming

Justice Action has a case around “A”, before the Mental Health Review Tribunal. It will define the rights of people and their carers to challenge their treatment in mental hospitals. Although the language of government responses to mental health support is changing rapidly to the “person-centred approach of recovery”, the reality on the ground is still authoritarian with coercion and forced medication the standard treatment. It is easy, cheap, and certain.

Justice Action has been asking the Tribunal to assert its power over the hospital since 2009. JA appealed to the Supreme Court over its refusal, and is arguing before the High Court of Australia the Public Interest to protect people in mental hospitals and support the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities. Now the Tribunal has squarely before it psychiatric evidence that the hospital has damaged A’s health by its forced treatment.  In accordance with section 162 of the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW), which prohibits the publication or broadcasting of the name of any person to whom a tribunal matter relates, the patient will be known as “A” in this report; though this provision is contrary to the right of patients to complain, have their treatment exposed, and be seen as a real person. It also decreases the accountability of the Tribunal, by hiding vital information from the public. However the violation of A’s human rights may be coming to an end with some compelling independent psychiatric reports opposing his forced medication. Throughout the years of A’s incarceration within the forensic mental health system, the psychiatrists and treating teams assigned to him have continuously attested to A’s fitness to plead. Despite this, the forensic hospital has continued to forcibly inject A with medication that is detrimental to his physical and mental health and wellbeing. According to psychiatric reports (of which there have been at least five separate external assessments), A’s development of diabetes and cardiac disorder are side effects of the medication that A has had forced upon him. The medication may also cause side effects that mimic the symptoms of mental illness, and are in fact, damaging to the brain. This is particularly the case when prescribed at “well above the maximum recommended by the manufacturer”, and given daily – as was the case for A. In addition to this damaging drug, he was dosed with additional medication that also produces the symptoms of mental illness. Despite this, the hospital refuses to acknowledge that they are directly responsible for A’s poor physical health; nor that they are producing “effects that can resemble mental illness” within A. They have applied to inject an increased dose into him.
 According to the medical reports, there is no evidence of A actually has mental illness. In fact, there are continuous allegations made by psychiatrists, where no substantiation is provided to justify the conclusions they have reached. This “reflects the bias that therapists exert in their advice to the Tribunal, which may need to curb their desire to treat in order to safeguard the welfare of those they treat”. Evidently, the psychiatrists’ reports promise to be an absolute game-changer for A’s half-yearly review. However, the Mental Health Review Tribunal does not want this information to be publicised. Despite the efforts of the Tribunal to make the matter disappear, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Background Briefing Program has requested permission to publish A’s name in their report and has contacted the Mental Health Review Tribunal for permission to attend the hearing. On Thursday 12 September 2013, the Tribunal shall consider whether it has jurisdiction over the hospital in controlling his treatment. This decision will create a precedent that will assign final control and accountability for forced medication in New South Wales to the Mental Health Review Tribunal. It will show what respect in practice, hospitals have for the new National Recovery Framework and for those entrusted in their care.
 In a health system where mental health consumers are prevented by law from controlling their body, their mind, their right to education and development, even to their own name, how can the Health Department present itself as supporting recovery? This is abuse in the most grotesque form. The lies are clearly exposed to public view and the watch dogs with their noses in trough.

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