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Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 17:14 GMT
Detention damages for mentally ill
High court ruling
The ruling could open the floodgate for claims
Patients detained in psychiatric hospitals against their will have been awarded damages for a breach of their human rights.

In a landmark ruling, a judge has awarded sums varying from 750 to 4,000 to five patients.

He said they must be compensated for the "frustration and distress" caused by a delay in reviewing their cases.

The ruling, made under the new human rights laws, could open the floodgates to many more similar claims.

In theory, anybody who has been detained against their will, regardless of whether or not it was on mental health grounds, may be able to apply for damages if a review of their case has been delayed.

The award of damages follows the judge's decision last year that the patients' rights to a speedy hearing had been infringed.

The principle cause was the shortage of tribunal members, particularly medical members, and shortage and lack of training of staff.

In one case a patient's review was repeatedly cancelled over a 27-week period.

Improvements made

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Considerable work has been done since the cases arose to improve the service.

"Improvements have been made to the way members of the tribunal board are booked for hearings and the way cases are listed.

"Different ways of managing judicial cases are also being evaluated.

"All these changes will improve the rate of disposal of cases and reduce the potential for delays and cancellations.

"Extra staff have been recruited to each administrative office and the regional structure is being streamlined."

The mental health charity Mind welcomed the awards.

Chief executive Richard Brook said: "Although no-one is going to get rich on the sums of money involved, we hope that this decision will provide a serious incentive for future tribunals to be heard on time."

See also:

04 Oct 01 | Health
11 Jan 02 | Health
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