Mental Health Commission denies tribunal chairman made discriminatory remarks

Mental Health Commission denies tribunal chairman made discriminatory remarks

Ashimedua Okonkwo

The Mental Health Commission has rejected a claims that the chairman of a mental health tribunal subjected a solicitor to discriminatory remarks.

In a sworn statement, Ashimedua Okonkwo told the High Court that tribunal chairman Eamonn Walsh BL stopped her representing a woman detained under the Mental Health Act and subjected to discriminatory remarks because she is “a woman and a black African”.

The patient did not want to be represented by another solicitor and left the tribunal hearing. The tribunal decided in her absence that the woman, who wants to return home, should remain detained as an involuntary hospital patient under the Mental Health Act for another six months.

As a result, the woman’s lawyers sought and were granted an inquiry under Article 40 of the constitution into the legality of her continued detention by the High Court on Friday afternoon.

When the case returned before Mr Justice Seamus Noonan yesterday morning, the judge was informed by Feichín McDonagh SC for the woman that the application was not being challenged.

Counsel said it had been agreed that an order directing the woman’s release could be made, but a stay was to be placed on the order so discussion concerning the woman’s ongoing care can take place between the relevant parties.

In a statement on behalf of the Mental Health Commission, Donal McGuinness SC, appearing with Mairéad McKenna BL, told the court that his client accepted “a patient is entitled to separately retain a solicitor who is not on the panel of solicitors maintained by the Commission”.

The patient was denied this opportunity, therefore the case is conceded as her current detention is not in accordance with the law, counsel said.

The commission stated: “We sincerely regret that this issue arose.”

The statement continued to address media attention which referred to a statement by Ms Okonkwo that she considered the tribunal chairman’s questions to her to be discriminatory.

It said: “These queries had nothing to do with her ethnicity or gender and the suggestion to that effect is strenuously objected to by all three members of the tribunal, who also have the right to the protection of their good name.”

Counsel said if a sworn statement on this issue is necessary, the tribunal would more than happy to submit it to the court.

Aodhan O Faolain, Ireland International News Agency Ltd.

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