This article was first published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Journal of Mental Health Law: it is reproduced by kind permission of Northumbria Law Press.
The Case for “Good” Legal Representation
Is it worth fighting for?
“The key to any successful professional service is recruiting good calibre candidates, good training, continuing education, adequate funding and a strong professional body that is able to enforce standards of conduct”
“If we interfere with the principles which underpin law, fritter them away, pick them out of the crannies of our political and social architecture, restoration is impossible. Our only hope is an order governed by law and consent”
“It gave me the impetus to get better as you have someone on your side
A very recent right
The legal representation of patients detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 (the Act) by way of public funding is very recent. Prior to the Act legal representation was not commonplace and was not seen as desirable. A Royal Commission report in 1957 commented that “As the proceedings on applications to Mental health Review Tribunals will usually be informal and neither the patient nor the hospital or local authority will usually need to be legally represented…” It was the Legal Aid Act 1974 that granted public funding for a solicitor to prepare a case for a Mental health Review Tribunal under the Legal Advice Scheme (the Green Form, remember those uncomplicated days!). This was means-tested but did not grant funding for actual representation. Public funding for representation at the hearing was only granted on 1st December 1982 under ‘Assistance by Way of Representation’. A time span up until today’s date of only 28 years!
The current threat
It cannot be taken for granted, that the right to publicly funded representatives will be preserved in years to come. The Legal Aid scheme enshrining this right is relatively new and vulnerable to arguments that others less qualified could carry out this role.6 This would create savings that the Government is desperate to secure from the Legal Aid budget. While you are here have a look at europe casino if you want to play casino games for free or or party bingo if you are looking to play bingo games online for free through party bingo and europe casino websites. It is also noteworthy that the number of members of the Law Society’s Mental Health Tribunal Panel (the Panel) is falling. From the inception of the Panel in 1986 until 2002 membership increased each year. Membership in 2002 stood at 498; since then the numbers have dropped each year, the figure for Jan 2009 being 395. It is therefore timely to remind ourselves as to why patients detained under the Act having access to good legal representation is a fundamental right. I stress ‘good’ because if it is not good, then the arguments for diluting this right will grow stronger, and second, the legal profession will have failed in their duty to represent the weak and the vulnerable.
To make the case I divide this article into three sections. The first section will explain why we need good legal representatives. The second section will analyse what makes for a good legal representative. The final section will attempt to give some answers as to how we can develop the conditions to ensure that good legal representation remains a permanent feature of the Tribunal system.
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