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Suicides in custody & in mental health units

Suicides in custody & in mental health units

Melanie Lidstone-Land, a Senior Associate at Swain & Co working in both the Mental Health and Clinical Negligence teams. She examines, in this article the potential redress through the courts following the completed suicide of a person in custody or subject to detention under the Mental Health Act.

Lately I have been receiving many more enquiries from families who have lost loved ones and family members to completed suicide in either prison or mental health units. The stories that I hear make me both incredibly sad and incredibly angry. I ask myself why these tragedies are still so prevalent in a country where the Government says it is providing ever increasing funds to the mental health sector?

I think that I know the answer and I think it is because people who are in prison or who are subject to detention under the Mental Health Act, somehow are still forgotten.

But, their families continue to fight for them and that is often the point that I become involved.

Families need help and advice in relation to the inevitable Inquest process and they want advice on how to “hurt” the authority that has forgotten, or worse, neglected their loved ones. Often, of course that is a claim for financial compensation.

How does that work?

When a person is in prison or is in a mental health unit (or subject to some sort of supervision and/or deprivation of liberty) there is a duty of care owed. A persons’ suicide can fall within the scope if that duty not to cause psychiatric injury or personal injury. It is enough to prove that if that duty is breached in some way that it was foreseeable that physical injury and/or death would occur.

What does “breach of duty” mean?

A breach of the duty of care can happen in many ways. In a prison setting it might be that there was not enough attention paid to concerns relating to a persons’ mental health.  Perhaps there was not enough communication between departments within the prison relating to concerns about a persons’ mental health.  In a mental health unit setting this could be inadequate levels of observation, it might be premature discharge or a failure to detain or assess for detention under the Mental Health Act. There are also possible breaches in relation to mental health patients who are informal or who may be on leave in the community.

Who can make a claim?

It is a popular mistake that only dependants of the deceased can make a claim. It is possible for relatives who are not dependants to make a claim and this claim may be in tort or it may made pursuant to The Human Rights Act. The time limit for bringing a claim under the Human Rights Act is limited to 12 months from the date of death so please remember to make enquiries with a lawyer as soon as possible.

It is also possible to bring a claim as a Secondary Victim if you were present at the immediate aftermath and are determined, in law, to have sufficient “proximity”.

These cases are complex but they need to be brought so that families get the answers they need, so that  there is more general awareness and so that, perhaps, things will change.

At Swain & Co, we recognise how difficult it can be to approach a firm of Solicitors and discuss such sensitive issues. Please rest assured that we have unique expertise in the Mental Health Act and Clinical Negligence meaning that we are able to provide the advice and answers that you need quickly and with real empathy. We want to help.

If you would like to arrange a no obligation, free discussion with one of our team please contact Melanie Lidstone-Land on 02392 483322 today


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