10 Apr 2012

When they come for you…

[The following has been emailed to Jumbies Watch by a UK qualified consultant forensic psychiatrist]

I am disheartened and deeply disappointed to learn of the deplorable circumstances surrounding the removal of Cheryl Miller from her workplace, to St. Ann’s Hospital for psychiatric treatment.
My reasoning and inferences herein are based purely on information reported in the media. I have no direct access to the facts of Miller’s case, nor would I expect any other average member of the public to possess the full facts.

Method of arrest
It is now clear that Miller was approached by Mental Health Officer/s (MHO) at offices in Tower D, of the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development in Port-of-Spain. It was reported in newspapers that one of Miller’s colleagues - opting to remain anonymous - stated that a legal officer representing the said Ministry, was present when MHOs had approached Miller. The legal officer was asked in the presence of the MHOs whether Miller was in a ‘public space’ (or place). When the legal officer responded in the affirmative, two men held Miller and took her out of a chair and to St. Ann’s Hospital[1].

Conveyance to mental hospital.
Miller was taken against her will to St. Ann’s hospital where she was detained. It was reported that she was given injections of medication and that she had not given consent to this treatment. Miller continued to protest her detention whilst at St. Ann’s Hospital. She took legal action in order to be freed.

Responsibility
On the 4th April 2012, the media reported that Verna St Rose-Greaves, The Minister for Gender, Youth and Child Development said, “I am the minister who is responsible for the ministry. The final responsibility will always have to be mine.” [2]

Legalities
It was reported that at court Section 15(1) of the Mental Health Act 1975 was the explanation given for Miller’s removal from her place of work. Vashist Maharajh, representing Dr Ian Hypolite, submitted that Miller was detained under Section 15 of the Mental Health Act that it was in her best interest, and the interest of the nation that she be treated at the hospital.[3]

The writ of habeas corpus was issued by the court, that Cheryl Miller be produced to the court by 2.30PM on 6th April 2012. Miller was not produced to the court - on the grounds that the institution wanted to be ‘discreet about it’.[4]

Miller was released on order of the court at about 17:15 on 6th April 2012, to the custody of relatives. An independent psychiatric report was ordered by the court to be submitted by 11th April. She was to return to court on 12th April.

Opinions
There is little doubt that Section 15(1) of the MHA 1975 was applied by MHOs, in order to arrest and convey Miller to St. Ann’s Hospital. This is what the court was told on Good Friday. On her arrival at St. Ann’s Hospital, Miller may have been detained there on a separate Section of the MHA, following an assessment.

The key issue is not whether Miller was so ill that she required detention at a psychiatric facility. The key issue is rather a non-medical one. It is this simple: did Mental Health Officers appropriately apply the statutory power entrusted to them, when they purported to use S15(1) of the Mental Health Act.

In non-technical language, did MHOs, in the circumstances that prevailed, have the power under S15(1) to arrest Miller and convey her to St. Ann’s Hospital? This is particularly important because the particular section limited them to acting only if Miller was in a public place or wandering on a highway.

It is not excusable that a legal officer stated that the offices of the Ministry were a ‘public place’ and that Mental Health Officers relied on this information to arrest Miller. Those who are performing duties that discharge statutory power are bound to determine for themselves using their own knowledge and skill, all the factors relevant to the discharge of those duties and powers. I think it is fair to say that no average reasonable person could consider the offices where Cheryl Miller carried out her duties, in a government building normally protected by security officers to exclude access by a free roaming public,  to be a public place or a highway.

The lawfulness of Miller’s arrest and conveyance to St. Ann’s Hospital, is a separate matter to the lawfulness of her detention in St. Ann’s Hospital, which is likely to be under a separate Section of the MHA 1975. In my estimation, it may be arguable that there were material breaches of Milller’s rights to freedom of movement, liberty, privacy and enjoyment of rights related to equality of treatment.

Failing to produce Miller to the court was non-compliance with the directions of the Court. Being ‘discreet’ is not a sufficient reason for failure to comply. The law is serious business. It is high time that the courts make examples of those who fail to comply with its directions.

If it transpires that some breach of Millers rights took place at Tower D, it is reasonable to hold Verna St Rose-Greaves liable as she has accepted responsibility for the circumstances. Individual MHOs and their supervising officers may be liable as well.

We wait with bated breath for Judge Kokaram’s ruling.

[1] Newsday – 2012-04-07 – Cheryl was forced
[2] Newsday – 2012-04-04 – Verna: I accept responsibility
[3] Guardian – 2012-04-07 – Cheryl Miller goes home
[4] Newsday – 2012-04-07 – Cheryl’s Good Friday

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