A WOMAN who says she was held against her will at Alma Street psychiatric clinic for more than a year is at the centre of a Supreme Court challenge to involuntary detention in WA.
Three Appeal Court judges had been due to hand down a decision yesterday, Friday May 24 in what is described as a test case by mental health lawyers representing 51-year-old Linda Shalala.
The verdict follows a hearing in February when the WA mental health law centre appealed a state administrative tribunal decision not to review her case.
The SAT had begged off because by the time it came to consider Ms Shalala’s status at Alma Street she’d been reclassified as voluntary, and the SAT can only consider reviews of involuntary patients: “That’s a major loophole,” solicitor Sandra Boulter told the Herald this week. “It means the treating psychiatrist, by making a person a voluntary patient, could cause a hearing into the patient’s status not to be heard, and then change the patient to involuntary after the hearing date. The SAT said it didn’t have the jurisdiction.
“We argued just because a patient has become voluntary in the interim, before it gets to a SAT review, that’s not a reason not to review the invalidity of the orders. Sometimes orders are made invalidly.”
Ms Boulter says the centre raised its concerns after identifying a sequence of orders it suspects were technically invalid during Ms Shalala’s stay at the Fremantle clinic: “If orders are invalid and a person is detained say for six weeks she has a potential action of damages against the state for unlawful imprisonment.”
Ms Shalala told the Herald she’d moved to WA in February 2011 to “get a fresh start” following a divorce and breast cancer treatment. Six weeks later, living and studying in Beaconsfield, she was taken from her TAFE class and committed as an involuntary patient.
She says for the next year-and-a-half she pursued requests for a review of her involuntary status while enduring medication and electric shock therapy.
A sexual assault claim she’d lodged was dismissed as delusional by the WA mental health review board, which also rejected her appeals to be released as a voluntary patient. Her lawyers then turned to the SAT to review the decision.
The board noted Ms Shalala also had, “a lengthy admission due to difficulties with finding her accommodation as several attempts at independent living had apparently failed”.
Ms Boulter says the appeal court may find the SAT should have reviewed the board decision to keep Ms Shalala detained involuntarily.
“This is an important test case,” she says. “It will set a precedent others can follow. If we can’t go to the SAT to look at such orders, then it is hard to correct errors from continuing to be made.”
She adds the decision due yesterday will be the first by the appeal court on the mental health act since the SAT was established.
by CARMELO AMALFI