The Mental Health Review Tribunal says during the Level 4 situation it will continue to receive and hear applications in accordance with its statutory duty, unless its functions are suspended. It intends to do so in a way that best helps avoid unnecessary risk to those involved in hearings and recognises the additional pressure which Tribunal hearings can place on already strained resources.
The Tribunal Convenor, James Wilding QC, says applications to the Tribunal involve the liberty of the individual. Pursuant to the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 hearings are required to commence within 21 days, or if an adjournment is directed by the Tribunal, within 28 days, of an application being made.
Applications only where necessary
Mr Wilding says if the circumstances are not pressing, it is best to delay making an application until after the current crisis has passed or reduced, and when applications will be able to be heard without the limitations resulting from Covid-19.
"The Tribunal encourages applicants, their counsel, District Inspectors and health professionals to liaise, by means which avoid or limit direct contact, with a view to trying to address issues which might otherwise lead to an application being made.
"Examples of such issues include changes to medication and leave, which are often the catalyst for applications to the Tribunal, but which fall outside of its jurisdiction."
Applications to be emailed
Mr Wilding says Secretariat staff are now mainly working from their homes. This means post may not be regularly cleared. The best way to file an application is by emailing the application form to Secretariat@mhrt.co.nz.
He says pre-hearing telephone conferences will occur earlier than usual, 10 days after receipt of the application. This is to enable:
- more time for understanding and planning hearing requirements;
- an earlier opportunity for applicants and health professionals to try to resolve issues which have led to an application.
"Please can those attending be in a position to have meaningful discussion. The Secretariat will advise of the date and time of the telephone conference by email. It is unlikely to be changed. The Secretariat already faces a significant burden. This means the applicant and his or her lawyer and responsible clinician will need to make arrangements to attend the telephone conference, or to ensure a suitably informed person attends in their stead," he says.
Hearings mainly by video-conference
Hearings will mainly be by video-conference, using Zoom. Individual Tribunals have a discretion as to how they conduct hearings, and in particular the extent to which they are in person, by video-link, by telephone or a combination. There is also potential for reviews to be conducted without a formal hearing, if the Tribunal is satisfied no person wishes to be heard in respect of the review.
"Unless a Tribunal decides otherwise, hearings will occur with the Tribunal attending by videoconference, using Zoom, a system familiar to many District Health Boards and lawyers. Whether the applicant and other participants attend by Zoom individually, or meet at a facility such as a hospital to collectively attend by Zoom, will need to be addressed at the telephone conference."