We received a letter today from a local Trust. This said that they have been receiving requests from patients about the qualifications of legal representatives advertising their services for Tribunal representation, and whether they are members of the Law Society Panel. TheTrust was seeking further information to be supplied to them so that their patients could "make an informed choice" about the person who would be representing them at their Mental Health Review Tribunal.
This is such good news to see firstly that patients who are in such a vulnerable position are seeking such fundamental information, and secondly for the Trust to be supporting them so that they can make an informed choice about who will represent them at such an important hearing.
This comes hot on the heels of the article http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/judge-slams-quality-mental-health-advocacy which focuses on the poor advocacy skills of those who are representing patients at Mental Health Review Tribunal but who are not accredited by the Law Society. Some are apparently so bad that patients are left to "advocate on [their] own account’", and Tribunal judge Carolyn Taylor said: ‘My heart bleeds when I see vulnerable patients being represented very badly. They would often be better off not represented at all.’However, it is feared that cuts to legal aid may put the cost of accreditation beyond the reach of sole practitioners and smaller firms.
I cannot imagine what is going on in theseTribunals where the person who is supposed to be mentally disorder ends up having to advocate on their own account because of the ineptiude of the person they trusted to represent them, or where their legal representative is so bad that “they would be better off not represented at all.” This is absolutely appalling,and I am pleased that patients and Trusts are becoming more assertive about finding out the credentials of those offering their services in this vitally important area of law, where ones’ freedom is at stake.
Fortunately in this area (Dorset) most of those who do this sort of work are indeed both qualified solicitors and accredited by the Law Society, and of course I am both a solicitor and accredited by the Law Society. I would join my support to the judiciary, regulators and bodies representing mental health lawyers who are all calling for membership of the Law Society MHRT Panel to be a mandatory requirement for appearing before the tribunal.