Mentally ill killers to be set free under new law
A small number of mentally ill killers and others detained at the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) will soon be released back into the community.
New laws were signed last week by President Mary McAleese that will allow criminals with mental disorders to be released from the CMH subject to strict conditions.
Ireland's insanity laws were amended on December 22 last after repeated complaints by the Mental Health (Criminal Law) Review Board that a small number of patients who were suitable for release could not be set free because it had no legal powers to impose conditions on their release.
Under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006, the Review Board was meant to have the power to discharge a person detained at the CMH either unconditionally or subject to certain conditions.
In recent years, however, a number of patients have been denied release because a defect in the 2006 law meant that the board had no power to enforce conditions on a patient, such as the taking of medication.
The bulk of reviews relate to people found not guilty by reason of insanity and complaints from prisoners involuntarily transferred to the CMH.
An amendment to the 2006 act had been expected to be passed last spring after the Review Board was involved in a series of High Court judicial review actions by detainees at the CMH.
But the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2010, which will come into force early next year, will allow the Review Board to release certain patients now that it has been granted powers to impose conditions on their release.
Yesterday, former Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Brian McCracken, chairperson of the Review Board, said in its annual report that the majority of patients detained under the 2006 act were not suitable at present for discharge.
"But there are some whom the board would discharge if it could subject to enforceable conditions," said Mr Justice McCracken.
"The failure to amend the 2006 law meant that the board's considerations in relation to the discharge of some patients to the community with safeguards in place for the patient and the public has been, of necessity, severely curtailed," he added.
The board's main function is to review the detention of those found not guilty by reason of insanity or unfit to be tried, who have been detained in a designated centre by order of a court.
It also has responsibility for people who have been convicted of offences and who become mentally ill while serving their sentences.
Before the Review Board was set up, patients sent to the hospital stayed until the government decided to release them.
On average, 80 patients are detained at the hospital under the legislation at any one time, and their detention is reviewed at least every six months.
Now in its third full year of operation, the board said that it has been holding sixth, seventh and eighth reviews of the detention of some patients.
Reviews can be initiated by the board, at the request of a patient, at the request of the Department of Justice or at the request of the CMH's clinical director.