Mental Health Tribunals: A Significant Medico-Legal Change

Medico-Legal Journal of Ireland, Vol. 10, p. 84, 2004

13 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2006 Last revised: 20 Feb 2013

See all articles by Darius Whelan

Darius Whelan

University College Cork - School of Law


After lengthy delays and protracted debates, Ireland's Mental Health Act 2001 was finally enacted. One crucial cornerstone of the new regime introduced by the Act will be automatic periodic reviews of patients' detentions by Mental Health Tribunals. This article focuses on the background to the new Tribunal system, the statutory rules for its operation, and case-law of relevance from Strasbourg and England. In a few years time, there will possibly have been a number of High Court decisions clarifying the procedures to be followed, and those with extensive experience of the tribunal system will meet to discuss the finer points of the operation of certain aspects of the system. An examination of the Irish legislation and consideration of relevant case-law from outside Ireland will provide some indications of possible future developments.

The new Mental Health Tribunal system will be a significant milestone in medico-legal relationships, and represent the first time that lawyers, doctors and others will sit together in three-person tribunals to issue legally binding decisions concerning medico-legal issues. While legal principles will obviously be of paramount importance, tribunals will also need to take care to have regard to the therapeutic consequences of the manner in which the tribunal is conducted, and the decision which is reached. Another valuable theme running through the case-law and literature is the requirement of procedural fairness, which not only serves a legal purpose but also may help to improve patient satisfaction with the tribunal system.

Keywords: law, mental health law, psychiatry and law, law and psychiatry, civil commitment

Suggested Citation

Whelan, Darius, Mental Health Tribunals: A Significant Medico-Legal Change. Medico-Legal Journal of Ireland, Vol. 10, p. 84, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Darius Whelan (Contact Author)

University College Cork - School of Law ( email )

+353-21-490 3000 (Phone)


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