Tribunal issues updated guidance on minimum requirements for hearings in hospitals

Readers working in psychiatric hospitals may be aware that the First-tier Tribunal wrote to hospitals last month with a copy of its Minimum requirements for tribunal hearings to be held in hospitals. This supersedes previous guidance issued in 2012.

The guidance sets out minimum standards for safety and security and, minimum requirements for facilities and amenities. The five page document should be read in full but key points include:

  • Ensuring that panel members are escorted to and from the room, if the route involves walking through any unescorted patient areas that are not open to the public.
  • Providing personal alarms to the tribunal judge unless there is access to an alarm in the hearing room.
  • Ensuring panel members have space to park within reasonable walking distance of the hearing venue and, if they are required to record their car registration numbers, there should be a separate private book for that purpose, which is kept confidential
  • The hearing room should be large enough to sit all attendees comfortably and to avoid the panel members being “hemmed in”. There should be adequate ventilation, good lighting and the atmosphere and décor should be appropriate for a formal judicial hearing.
  • Facilities in the hearing room should include a working telephone (and if not, panel members must be permitted to retain their mobiles) and the panel must have access to their laptops or tablet devices in the room.

To emphasise the importance of having appropriate hearing arrangements, the introduction to the document includes the phrase “A hearing room is as essential to a psychiatric hospital as an operating theatre is to a surgical hospital.” However, not all patients detained under the Mental Health Act are detained in psychiatric hospitals. A number of patients will be detained in general hospitals and we would recommend that all hospitals where patients are detained under the Act should be familiar with the guidance to ensure that the requirements are met. 

Failure to do so could result in the tribunal deciding to hold its hearings elsewhere, resulting in cost and inconvenience to the hospital concerned by having to arrange travel for its professionals and secure transport for the patient.

We regularly advise and represent clients in connection with tribunal hearings so please get in touch with any issues.

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