Judges have made a landmark ruling for a mental health tribunal to be heard in public.
A Broadmoor Hospital patient has won the right to have a review into his detention heard in open court, The Independent newspaper reported this week.
The decision has implications for how mental health tribunals, which until now have always been held privately in mental health settings, operate.
Judges ruled that European law requires a person with mental health problems should have the “same or substantially equivalent right of access to a public hearing as a non-disabled person.”
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has spent 23 years detained under the Mental Health Act, mostly at Broadmoor Hospital, the high-security unit in Berkshire.
He was detained in September 1986 after being convicted on two counts of attempted wounding.
Psychiatrist had classified the 52-year-old as having a mental illness and psychopathic disorder. But in September 2008 the diagnosis was changed to just psychopathic disorder.
Seven months later, the man began a campaign to be released from detention and applied to have a public hearing at the Mental Health Tribunal, which decides whether patients can be released from their detention.
Such tribunals are normally heard in private because they contain details of a person’s medical records.
But in a judgment handed down on 17 February, three upper-tribunal judges ruled the case should be heard in open court.
Judges, led by Senior President of Tribunals Lord Justice Carnwath, said: “The European Convention on Human Rights requires that a person should have the same or substantially equivalent right of access to a public hearing as a non-disabled person.”
“This is an enormously important case,” Lycette Nelson, from the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre, told journalists.
“It reinforces the idea that a person with a mental illness should be extended the same right to open justice as any other person should they want it.”
Broadmoor Hospital told the tribunal that it feared approving a public hearing would lead to a flood of similar petitions.
The patient said in a statement: “I have been compulsorily detained for over two decades to receive psychiatric treatment for a mental illness that for many years I disputed and which, in 2008, was deleted.”