Sunday 22 April 2018

Barrister fails in challenge over chairmanship of tribunal

Tim Healy

A BARRISTER has failed in a High Court bid to quash a decision not to renew her chairmanship of tribunals set up to protect the interests of people detained in mental hospitals.

These tribunals, which are composed of barrister/solicitor as chairperson, a lay person and a consultant psychiatrist, have the power to revoke or affirm orders made for the involuntary admission of people to mental hospitals.

In 2004, barrister Maureen Lynam Jacobs applied for and was appointed to serve as a chairperson of the tribunals for a three year term from 2006 to 2009 by the Mental Health Commission (MHC).

However, the MHC did not reappoint her for a second three-year term and as a result she sought a number of court orders including the quashing of the MHC's decision to remove her from that position from November 2010 and quashing another decision to put her on a reserve panel of chairperson nominees.

Today, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan found she had not been removed from her position but had served the full term of her period of appointment.

It was quite clear that while there was no bar to a person being re-appointed, there was also no entitlement or guarantee of re-appointment, he said.

He rejected her claim the MHC was contractually obliged to keep reappointing her or that she had a statutory entitlement to be re-appointed.

Her contention she had a contract with embedded rights by virtue of employment law was "not correct and cannot be sustained," he said.

Her view that once she was appointed she effectively had an option to be reappointed for "as long as met her convenience" was, in the judge's opinion, untenable.

Outlining the history of the case, the judge said that in February 2009 the MHC wrote asking her to respond to the application process for appointment as a chairperson after November of that year for a further three year period.

However, the MHC then decided to renew the existing panel of chairpersons for another year and in the interim set up a new selection process to ensure there could be no question of the validity of any future tribunals, the judge said.

Under a scoring system used in questions asked by the interview board, the top 70 interviewees were to be considered for appointment. Ms Lynam Jacobs was placed at number 108 and put on a reserve panel.

Mr Justice Gilligan said the consensus summary comments of the interview board stated Ms Lynam Jacobs "demonstrated useful experience in chairing tribunals" but did not "answer questions in a clear and concise manner particularly re decision making and report writing skills."

Ms Lynam Jacobs' solicitor then wrote to the MHC saying, among other things, she was automatically eligible to hold office for a further three years and should not have been required to re-apply under the new system. The MHC rejected her claims and said the selection process was not defective.

She later brought High Court proceedings seeking a judicial review of the matter.

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