The mental health tribunal cannot defer a patient’s discharge to a date after their renewal.
JMcG was transferred from prison to hospital under section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA). After the expiry of his sentence he applied to the tribunal for discharge. He requested that his discharge be deferred under section 72(3) to allow an appropriate aftercare package to be put in place, including the suitable accommodation.
JMcG’s application was refused, the tribunal finding that the statutory criteria for detention were met. The tribunal noted in the decision that JMcG’s detention period was due to expire 3 weeks after the hearing (absent being renewed by his Responsible Clinician) and that that period ‘would not be long enough to wean him from Diazepam and nor would it be enough time to give the best opportunity of finding appropriate discharge accommodation nor to reintroduce him to the community by way of controlled leave’.
JMcG appealed to the Upper Tribunal on the grounds that:
- The tribunal had misinterpreted the law by holding itself as being unable to defer a patient’s discharge at a date beyond the date of renewal
- The tribunal had failed to give adequate reasons for why the statutory criteria for detention were met.
The Upper Tribunal held that the tribunal did not in fact assert that discharge could not be deferred beyond the date of expiration, but that, though obiter, it could not. To order discharge at a later date would effectively extend the period of authorisation: a power which the Act does not provide the tribunal.
Judge Knowles QC noted that the power to defer a discharge is usually used where the tribunal considers that the patient ought to be discharged but that adequate aftercare arrangements have not been made. In such cases an application for an adjournment could be made instead. The Upper Tribunal cited the following passage from R (Ashworth Hospital) v MHRT  EWCA Civ 923:
"If the tribunal had any doubt as to whether such services would be available, they should have adjourned to obtain any necessary information. I regard the alternative of a deferral…as less satisfactory … if the tribunal is in doubt as to whether suitable after-care arrangements will be available, it is difficult to see how they can specify a particular date for discharge. In cases of doubt, the safer course is to adjourn…"
Patients whose hearings are scheduled relatively close before their renewal date will need to consider whether they are in a position to argue for their immediate discharge or whether they will need to apply for their hearing to be adjourned beyond that date. Applications should be made in advance of the hearing where possible and specify directions sought in relation to aftercare arrangements.