How to apply and prepare for a Mental Health Review Tribunal hearing

How to apply and prepare for a MHRT hearing, what happens during and after the hearing, and the right of appeal

On this page:

How to apply

In most cases, anyone who applies to the Mental Health Review Tribunal for a hearing must use the application form:

Once you have downloaded and filled in the form, email or post to:

Email: [email protected]
Post: The Convenor, Mental Health Review Tribunal, PO Box 10407, The Terrace, Wellington 6143.

You do not need to use the application form for complaints about breaches of your rights. This is covered by a separate process.

Additional documents may be required

In the case of patients who are subject to compulsory treatment orders, you'll need to include a recent certificate of clinical review with your application.

It is also helpful to supply a copy of the current compulsory treatment order.

Applicants who are not patients

If you are not the patient, then you need to complete an additional section on the application form.

Assistance with completing the application forms

District Inspectors can help to prepare an application form.

District inspectors are lawyers who work to protect the rights of patients under the Mental Health Act. Their services are free.

The contact details for District Inspectors are available at every place of treatment. You can also download a Directory of District Inspectors.

Lawyers who undertake mental health work are also able to help. You should be able to get the names and contact details of lawyers who do mental health work at places of treatment. District Inspectors are also able to help find lawyers.

Bringing along family, whānau and friends for support

The MHRT welcomes family, whānau and friends attending hearings to offer their support. Information for those wishing to support applicants is on the Support from family, whānau and friends page

Preparing for a hearing

If you are represented by a lawyer then you should discuss how best to prepare with them, and follow their advice.

Here are some pointers to assist you to prepare for your hearing:

  • Check that you have the correct time, date and venue.
  • Give any support people you want present plenty of notice about the hearing.
  • Write down all the points you wish to make and bring the list with you to the hearing.
  • Read the information on this page, below this list, about the hearing format.
  • Read the information on this page about the issues the MHRT will consider.
  • Allow yourself enough time to get to the hearing and avoid being late.
  • Allow enough time for the hearing to take place, keeping in mind that the start time is sometimes delayed and hearings usually take around 2 hours.
  • Bring a pen and paper with you at the hearing so that you can note down points while others are speaking.
  • If you wish, write out an opening statement to read or give to the MHRT.
  • Read a copy of your responsible clinician’s report to the MHRT before the hearing. If you disagree with any part of the report, make a note of that. Bring those notes with you to the hearing.
  • If you have any worries or concerns about the process, talk to a District Inspector or your lawyer.

What happens at the hearings

A typical hearing takes 1–2 hours.

We welcome the presence of whānau, family, friends and supporters of applicants. They do not have to say anything, but are welcome to do so if they wish.

Those almost always in attendance are:

  • the applicant
  • the applicant’s lawyer
  • the responsible clinician
  • the worker/case manager

Others who might be in attendance include:

  • a social worker
  • a psychologist
  • a cultural advisor
  • family members, whānau or friends of the applicant
  • a representative from an agency providing support to the applicant

The hearings are held in private. It is an offence to tell the public what happens during a hearing. Someone who commits that offence can be fined up to $10,000.

The three Review Tribunal members sit at a table facing all those attending the hearing. The hearing is presided over by the lawyer member of the Review Tribunal. Of the two remaining members, one is a psychiatrist and the other is a community member. Sometimes a fourth member of the Tribunal attends, usually for cultural reasons. An interpreter is present if needed.

Before the hearing begins, the psychiatrist member of the Tribunal briefly examines the patient, mostly to find out whether or not the hearing process will be difficult for the patient.

The applicant’s lawyer then makes an opening submission. Following that, evidence is given. Usually, the applicant speaks first, followed by the responsible clinician. Evidence is not given on oath, and is not recorded except in handwritten notes taken by the Tribunal's members.

Each person giving evidence is questioned by Tribunal members. The lawyer for the applicant is then invited to ask the witness some questions.

Once all the evidence is given, the applicant’s lawyer is invited to give a closing submission. Those present are then asked to leave the room so that the Tribunal members can discuss what their decision should be. This usually takes about five minutes. After that, everyone is invited back into the room, and the Tribunal announces the decision.

Sometimes, hearings take place by video conference. When that happens, we try to follow the same format as much as possible.

On rare occasions, hearings are conducted by telephone conference.

After the hearing

Following the hearing, the lawyer member of the MHRT prepares a document that records the MHRT's findings and reasons for the decision. A copy is supplied to the applicant and responsible clinician. It is typically between 5-10 pages and issued 3-4 weeks after the hearing.

What the MHRT is required to decide

For patients who are subject to compulsory treatment orders, the Tribunal is required to certify whether or not they are fit to be released from compulsory status. This in turn requires the MHRT to decide whether or not the patient's condition meets the definition in section 2 of the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992. The Act's definition is as follows:

The Act defines this as follows:

mental disorderin relation to any person, means an abnormal state of mind (whether of a continuous or an intermittent nature), characterised by delusions, or by disorders of mood or perception or volition or cognition, of such a degree that it—

(a) poses a serious danger to the health or safety of that person or of others; or

(b) seriously diminishes the capacity of that person to take care of himself or herself;—

and mentally disordered, in relation to any such person, has a corresponding meaning.

If a patient's condition meets this definition, then as a matter of law they are not fit to be released from compulsory status.

Equally, if the patient’s condition no longer meets the definition, they are fit to be released from compulsory status.

For special patients who have been found unfit to stand trial for an offence, the Review Tribunal is required to certify whether they remain unfit to stand trial, and if so, whether they should continue to be subject to detention as special patients.

For special patients who have been found not guilty of an offence on account of insanity, the MHRT is required to certify whether they should be subject to the orders for detention as special patients.

For restricted patients, the Tribunal is required to certify whether or not they are fit to be released from compulsory status, and if not, whether they should remain restricted patients.

What the MHRT is unable to decide

The MHRT does not have the power to make orders beyond those outlined in the previous section.

Amongst other things, they are unable to decide whether treatment should be undertaken in hospital or in the community, or what treatment should be provided.

Right of Appeal

If the Review Tribunal decides that a patient is not fit to be released from compulsory status, patients have the right of appeal to the District Court. This right is described in Section 83 of the Act.

The right must be exercised within one month of the Tribunal's decision.

This right of appeal does not apply to special patient cases, nor does it apply when the MHRT considers that a patient is fit to be released from compulsory status.

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