Court finds that severely mentally ill man is lawfully detained

Prisoner with paranoid schizophrenia accused of assaulting mother with knife


The High Court has ruled that a man with a long history of mental illness accused of assaulting his mother with a knife is lawfully detained in an Irish prison.

The court heard that man, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and polysubstance drug abuse and cannot be identified for legal reasons, is not taking his medication in the prison and his condition is deteriorating.

He has been remanded in custody on foot of minor theft charges, and for the alleged assault on his mother.

Due to the man’s propensity for violence, he is n ot deemed suitable for treatment in the community or at a regular psychiatric hospital, the court heard.

He is currently being held in single cell in the prison’s Vulnerable Person Unit, and is under constant supervision.

The High Court heard that prison staff, who it is accepted have been doing their best to care for the man, cannot administer his medication on an involuntary basis.

The only place where that can be done is at the Central Mental Hospital in Dublin. There are no beds currently available at the CMH but the man is second on a waiting list, the court heard.

In his judgement , Mr Justice Antony Barr accepted that the case raised important legal issues. He said the man’s lawyers had sought an inquiry, under Article 40 of the Constitution, into his ongoing detention at the prison.

The inquiry arose after the man’s appeared before the District Court late last month when his lawyers asked the judge to make a determination on his fitness to plead to the charges of stealing alcoholic drinks worth less than €30.

The man’s lawyers claimed that when the District Court judge heard there were no beds in the CMH, he said it would be futile to find the man unfit to plead.

The judge then adjourned the matter, and returned the man back to the prison, where he had been remanded in custody following the alleged attack on his mother.

The man’s lawyers claimed that the District Court judge’s refusal to make a finding the man was unfit to plead was unlawful, and that the district court judge took irrelevant considerations were taken into account, namely the lack of beds at the CMH.

Inquiry sought

In seeking an inquiry into the man’s detention, his lawyers argued that the judge’s decision meant that by remanding him back to the prison his constitutional right to bodily integrity was being violated.

The judge noted that the man’s lawyers did not want the court to make orders that would see him released into the community, but rather they sought an order aimed at compelling the authorities to take steps to regularise his custody.

The prison and the Director of Public Prosecution did not accept that the man was unlawfully detained. The CMH was a notice party to the proceedings.

The respondents argued that the district court lacked the jurisdiction to deem the man unfit to plead. This was because the man, due to his medical condition lacked the capacity to his right to elect to have his case heard by a judge or before a jury.

In his ruling Mr Justice Barr said he was satisfied that the District Court judge did not have the jurisdiction to make a determination on the issue of the man’s fitness to plead when the matter came before him last month. The District Court, he said, did not have the jurisdiction to deal with the theft charges in a summary matter.

Due to the man’s mental state, the accused was not in a position to understand what was going on, or at least indicate if he wanted the offences heard by a judge or by a jury, Mr Justice Barr added.

In such circumstances, Mr Justice Barr said that the only option available to the District Court is to send the theft charges forward to the Circuit Court, which would decide on the issue of the man’s fitness to plead.

Not ideal

In his decision Mr Justice Barr said it was accepted by all parties that the man needs urgent treatment at the CMH. It was the judge said a sad case, involving a young man with a long history of mental illness. The prison was not ideal, but it is the best place for the man to be at present, outside of the CMH, the judge said.

He said that the prison staff do not have the power to administer medication on an involuntary basis, which is not the desired treatment.

Releasing the man into the community, the judge said, would represent a grave danger to others, would render the man homeless and his condition would likely deteriorate more rapidly.

In the circumstances, he judge said he was refusing to make a declaration that the man’s continued detention in the prison at the present time is unlawful.