Saunders Law brings pioneering legal challenge seeking reform of Mental Health Tribunal and fair treatment for victims of crime
This week the High Court will hear a pioneering legal challenge brought by Saunders Law which seeks to reform the Mental Health Tribunal so that victims of crime receive fair treatment.
The claim is brought by our client, Ms A (who cannot currently be named for legal reasons). Her son was killed in an unprovoked and frenzied knife attack by a man, Mr B, in 2017. The man was convicted of manslaughter by a criminal court but due to his suffering from paranoid schizophrenia was not sent to prison but instead sent to a secure Psychiatric Unit under a Hospital Order and Restriction Order under the Mental Health Act 1983. Restriction Orders are only given where a patient presents a particularly high risk to the public, and means that the Secretary of State for Justice is also involved in the decision-making around the offender’s treatment.
In February 2021, just four years after the fatal attack, our client’s son’s killer was granted conditional discharge by the First-tier Tribunal, releasing him back into the community.
As a bereaved family member Ms A is considered a victim of crime for the purposes of the law under the “Victim’s Code”. However the Tribunal’s inflexible rules mean that she has been excluded from the process in 3 key respects:
- She was not given reasons for the Tribunal’s decision to discharge Mr B
- She was not allowed to submit a Victim Personal Statement (VPS) to the Tribunal to set out the impact of Mr B’s crime on her
- She has no right to request a review of the decision
Despite her best efforts to understand why the decision was made Ms A has been met with a wall of silence. The Tribunal has offered her nothing to assure her that her son’s killer is safe to be around others, or that he has ever shown any remorse for what he did.
By stark contrast the Parole Board offers victims of crime far more input and transparency when it is considering whether to grant parole to prisoners. Those rights were incorporated into the Parole Board Rules after a high-profile legal challenge was brought on behalf of victims of crime when the so-called “black cab rapist” John Worboys was initially granted parole.
This week we will argue before the High Court that there is no legal justification for that difference in treatment, and by shutting out victims of crime the Mental Health Tribunal is acting unlawfully. The case will also raise important points about the open justice principle.
Mr Bahra said the following:
“My client has been let down by every institution and at every juncture since the tragic death of her son in 2017. Despite the devastating impact it has had on her family, she continues to fight tirelessly to reform the systems in place to ensure that in the future no bereaved family receives the poor treatment she has had to endure.
The Government now recognises the importance of involving victims and giving them a voice in Parole Board proceedings – but denies them that voice entirely when the crime has been committed by a mental health patient.
There is no legal justification for that difference, or for the Tribunal operating in complete secrecy. By bringing this challenge my client is fighting for a greater degree of transparency and accountability in every part of the criminal justice system. The Government owes victims of crime nothing less.”