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HIGH COURT RULES ON INVESTIGATION OF DEATHS IN PSYCHIATRIC DETENTION

Thursday 10 October 2013

R (Antoniou) v 1. The CNWL NHS Trust; The Secretary of State for Health; & NHS England  CO/7495/2011

The High Court has handed down judgment today on whether the UK should create a system for independently investigating the deaths of detained psychiatric patients. Lord Justice Aiken and Mr Justice Mitting found that such a system was not required under the current law but raised the possibility that the UK may wish to create such a system on grounds of public policy.

Today’s High Court judgment rejected Dr Michael Antoniou’s judicial review of the failure to conduct an independent investigation into his wife’s death in psychiatric detention. Mrs Jane Antoniou, a well known mental health campaigner, was found dead in her room at Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, London on 23 October 2010. She was detained at the time under section. An investigation was launched by the same NHS Trust that had responsibility for Mrs Antoniou’s care in detention (the Central and North West London NHS Trust).

The internal investigation conducted by the Trust found few failures. However at her inquest almost two years later, the jury was highly critical of aspects of her care prior to her death. Had these been identified by an earlier, independent investigation, operational changes could have been implemented sooner to help minimise the risk to life of others.

More psychiatric patients die every year in detention than any other type of detainee, yet they are the only detainees in England and Wales whose deaths are not investigated by an independent body pre-inquest. NHS England is currently undertaking a review of how these deaths should be investigated and it is hoped that this will lead to an end of the health service investigating itself prior to the inquest hearings into these deaths.

Dr Antoniou has until 21 October 2013 to lodge an application for permission to appeal from the High Court.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST said

“It is timely that today, World Mental Health Day, the battle for independent investigation into the deaths of detained psychiatric patients continues.  As politicians celebrate the positive steps that have already been made towards ending mental health discrimination, we call on them to pledge their support to end this unfair and discriminatory practice.

“We are continuing to see serious and systematic failures of Trusts to properly investigate deaths of psychiatric patients in their care.  Only rigorous, transparent and fully independent investigations, with the effective participation of the family, will ensure lessons are learnt from deaths in mental health detention, so that further deaths can be prevented.”

INQUEST has been working with the family of Jane Antoniou since her death in 2010. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Tony Murphy of Bhatt Murphy solicitors and Paul Bowen QC of Doughty Street chambers.

Ends

Notes to editors:

  1. Today’s High Court judgment rejecting Dr Michael Antoniou’s judicial review of failure to conduct an independent investigation into his wife’s death in psychiatric detention is available from INQUEST. Please contact Hannah Ward, Communications Manager on 020 7263 1111.
  2. Dr Antoniou’s challenge is funded by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.   He is also supported by INQUEST and Rethink Mental Illness.
  3. An inquest took place into Mrs Antoniou’s death before HMC Andrew Walker sitting with a jury at North London Coroners Court from 30 April – 16 May 2012. The jury concluded that Mrs Antoniou died as a result of inadvertent self-harm and it returned a narrative verdict criticising aspects of Mrs Antoniou’s care.
  4. The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP) figures record that in the ten year period from 2002 to 2011 inclusive there were a total of 3,197 deaths giving an average of 320 deaths in mental health detention each year.
  5. Concern regarding the lack of independent investigation of MHA deaths has been expressed for some time by influential bodies including: the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights; and the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody (now replaced by the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody which is a part of the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody).
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