High Court asks psychiatric hospital to find way for patient to visit family graves

Man anxious to see graves of relatives who have died in recent years, judge says

The judge said it appeared to her the outing would be in the man’s best interests, if it can be done safely. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The judge said it appeared to her the outing would be in the man’s best interests, if it can be done safely. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The High Court has asked a psychiatric hospital to submit proposals on how it might safely facilitate an involuntarily-detained patient’s visit to his relatives’ graves.

In a judgment regarding the ongoing detention of a man who has been designated a ward of the court, Ms Justice Niamh Hyland said it would be “inappropriate” to direct the hospital to organise the visit, but it appeared to her the outing would be in the man’s best interests, if it can be done safely.

To be declared a ward of court a person must have been deemed to be of unsound mind by two independent doctors. The man, who is in his 30s, is the subject of involuntary detention orders which must be reviewed every six months to ensure compliance with human rights laws.

He has a significant learning difficulty and a long history of psychotic illness and repeated criminal offending associated with polysubstance abuse and homelessness from a young age, noted the judge.

Ms Justice Hyland said the hospital contends that a visit to the graves would not be safe at present as there are not always clear triggers or warning signs prior to his explosive behaviour and the visit would be emotional. However, the man is very anxious to be released into the care of his family so he can see the graves of his relatives who have died in recent years, she said. His family, too, feels very strongly the visit should be permitted.

Asking for the hospital to put forward suggestions as to how the visit could be conducted safely, Ms Justice Hyland said the matter will be considered further at the next review date.

In considering that issue, Ms Justice Hyland noted the hospital had argued that his family members’ suggestion they would be in a position to care for him during a visit to the graves was “entirely unrealistic and fails to consider the protection of the public or take into account his forensic history”. She said the hospital considers there to be a “chasm” between the man’s family and his treating team as to the correct approach to him, and it wants to ensure the family’s views do not have a destabilising effect on the ward.

Members of the man’s family expressed their dissatisfaction with various aspects of his detention, treatment and medication, said the judge. His treating doctor said she does not believe his family understands the severity of his condition and his risk of sudden and unprovoked violent behaviour.

The general solicitor indicated she had full confidence in the doctor’s treatment of the man, and Ms Justice Hyland said she does not see any basis for interfering with his existing placement or medication.

Upon request from his family, the judge appointed a relative as committee (who works in conjunction with the court on the man’s behalf) of the man and his estate. The hospital had expressed concerns about such a move due to the family’s diverging views as to his treatment, but Ms Justice Hyland said the relatives’ constant support of the man “cannot be over-estimated”.