Book Review – Mental Health Tribunal Handbook

Mental Health Tribunal Handbook: Sarah Johnston, Sophy Miles and Dr Claire Royston (Legal Action Group, 2015: £48)

This new work from LAG aims to enable practitioners successfully to represent clients in the Mental Health Tribunal (and above to the Upper Tribunal).  It follows the tried and tested LAG formula of bringing together a range of experts, whose expertise is revealed in their ability to explain themselves simply.   This book benefits particularly from the fact that two of the authors (Sarah Johnston and Sophy Miles) sit as Tribunal judges, in the case of Sophy Miles in between arguing cases (until recently as solicitor, now as Counsel) on behalf of patients, and the third (Dr Claire Royston) is a highly experienced psychiatrist who has also sat as medical member.   The authors are therefore able to provide coverage of the Tribunal from all angles, and have also sought – very properly – to bring to bear the patient’s perspective with a powerful interview with ‘John’ in chapter 9 as to experiences of the Tribunal.

In some ways, this book mis-sells itself because it could equally be advertised as the “mental health handbook.”   Part 1 (The Law) provides a comprehensive and (mercifully) clear outline of the framework of the MHA 1983, the relevant provisions of the MCA 2005, and the special considerations that apply to children and young persons.  In terms of detail, it does not (and does not purport to) serve as a rival to the bible that is Richard Jones’ Mental Health Act Manual, but it could very usefully sit on the bookshelf of any lawyer or health or social care professional who has to deal with the MHA 1983 during the course of their day job and who needs to understands its core principles and provisions.

Part 2 (Practice and Procedure) is notable for both for its ease of use and for the clear focus throughout on ensuring that the patient is put front and centre.  For me, a particular standout is chapter 11 on evidence gathering and preparation, and the practical guidance given there to solicitors on preparing to interview, taking instructions on the first visit from and advising their clients.   Whilst the authors recognise that the steps taken there may not all be possible in light of the bleak realities of legal aid, they nonetheless at least can serve as a Platonic ideal.

Part 3 (Understanding Mental Disorder) contains an extremely clear and helpful discussion of the concept of mental disorder, and key psychiatric conditions including a detailed discussion of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, learning disability and personality disorder.   It will not necessarily enable the reader to style themselves as a psychiatrist, but – much more importantly – it will undoubtedly give lawyers the ability to talk to (and cross-examine) them.

Overall, the authors are to be commended on a work that is accessible, portable (510 pages but still fitting easily into a bag), and – by legal standards – very reasonably priced.    Thank you, and thank you LAG!.

Full disclosure: I am very grateful to Legal Action Group for providing me with a copy of this book for purposes of this (unpaid) review.  I should say that Sophy Miles and I co-authored the Court of Protection Handbook for Legal Action Group, and I commented upon some chapters in the Mental Health Handbook.  I am always open to reviewing books in the area of mental capacity law and policy (broadly defined).   


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