Supreme Court to rule if woman lawfully detained in hospital

Elderly dementia sufferer was prevented from leaving to go and live with her son

The Supreme Court said the appeal raises issues about the wardship system.

The Supreme Court said the appeal raises issues about the wardship system.


The Supreme Court will urgently hear an important appeal against a finding that an elderly woman with dementia, previously prevented by a hospital from discharging herself, is lawfully detained as a ward of court in another hospital.

The case raises significant issues concerning whether the High Court’s wardship procedure offers sufficient safeguards in the context of the detention of people allegedly suffering from a mental disorder.

In June 2016, a hospital prevented the 93-year-old woman leaving with her son to be cared for in his home due to its concerns about her mental capacity and frail physical state, having fractured both hips in recent falls.

The hospital also had concerns about the behaviour of her son and daughter for reasons including the latter was once seen covering her mother in cayenne pepper and the family had bought their mother an exercise bicycle.

After the hospital refused to discharge the woman, her son in July 2016 lost applications to the High Court under Article 40 of the Constitution arguing his mother was in unlawful detention.

At the time of those Article 40 hearings, an order was made which culminated in the woman being made a ward of court.

She remains in another hospital on foot of orders under the High Court’s wardship jurisdiction.

Last July, the Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by the son over the High Court’s July 2016 rejection of his Article 40 applications but stressed its decision related only to her detention in the first hospital, which had ended by the time the appeal was heard.

Best interests

While agreeing the first hospital was acting in what it considered was the woman’s best interests, the Court of Appeal ruled that a patient must, on request, be released from a hospital unless there is a clear legal authority either under statute or as a result of a court order justifying a refusal to release.

The court said it was open to the son to bring a fresh Article 40 application before the High Court challenging his mother’s current detention in the second hospital.

He did so and the High Court ruled last August his mother was validly detained under the High Court wardship orders. The son then asked the Supreme Court to hear a further appeal against that finding.

In a published determination this week agreeing to hear his appeal, the Supreme Court said the appeal raises issues of the interaction of the historic wardship legislation grounding the wardship jurisdiction of the High Court with modern mental health legislation.

The Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, Mr Justice John MacMenamin and Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley said the son argued the wardship procedure does not offer sufficient safeguards in the context of detention of people allegedly suffering from a mental disorder.

They stressed leave to appeal was being given solely to allow the man challenge the validity of the orders made in the wardship proceedings on grounds those were not made in line with fundamental rights under the Constitution or are incompatible with legally binding obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The woman’s current detention remains valid unless the man wins his appeal, the judges stressed.

They said the matter is urgent for reasons including the woman’s age and would be case managed with a view to an early hearing.

Another judgment expected to be delivered by the Supreme Court in the near future will address similar issues regarding the proper parameters of the High Court’s wardship jurisdiction.