Sunday 19 November 2017

Young man 'should be in psychiatric hospital, not prison' - court told

Tim Healy

A young man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia should be in a psychiatric hospital and not prison where he now is, the President of the High Court was told today.

The man, aged in his twenties, has been on a waiting list for the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) and a District judge dealing with his case noted "ongoing turf war" between adult mental health units and the CMH, his solicitor said in an affidavit.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, who said the matter was "very worrying to say the least",  yesterday directed an inquiry be held next week into the legality of the man's detention in prison after bail was refused. The inquiry would facilitate a speedy assessment of where the man's needs will be best met, he said.

The inquiry was sought by Micheál P. O'Higgins SC, for the man, who said his client clearly needs psychiatric treatment and should be in hospital, not prison which was not capable of addressing his mental health needs.

"Prison is the last place he should be," counsel said.

The man is charged with with one count of threatening to kill his treating psychiatrist on a date in July 2012.

A consultant forensic psychiatrist who assessed him in April 2014 concluded he could avail of the defence of not guilty by reason of insanity, counsel said.

The man was detained involuntarily in a hospital adult mental health unit since November 2013 and was also on bail concerning the charge against him.

Following an incident at the unit last Friday, the State applied to revoke his bail on grounds there would be a serious likelihood of his committing another offence.

In an affidavit, the man's solicitor said he told her he was having paranoid thoughts and feeling suicidal in the days before Friday's incident.  She also noted self-harm marks on his wrists.

He told her he could not remember much about the incident but he was pepper-sprayed by gardai, restrained and kept in seclusion in the unit for the night and given injections without his consent.

At the District Court bail hearing next day, the judge was told by a nurse at the hospital the man refused his medication on Friday at 5pm, became violent and threatened members of staff he would kill them.  The nurse said he had two pens he threatened to stab staff with, gardai were called, the man was pepper-sprayed, restrained and given medication.

The nurse also said the man had absconded from the hospital a number of times previously and tested positive for illicit substances when he returned.

The defence put a report before the District Judge stating the man was having a psychotic episode at the time of the offence alleged against him and also stating there was no independent assessment whether his actions last Friday were due to another psychotic episode. A doctor also stated the adult unit was not a suitable place for the man.

The District Judge, after saying he had to balance the rights of the individual against the danger to society and needed to err on the side of caution, revoked bail but accepted there may be a remedy elsewhere, the solicitor said.

The District judge noted the "ongoing turf war" between adult mental health units and the CMH and remanded the man in custody to July 11 with directions he receive appropriate medical treatment.

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