My ideas are important because many people are dying week on week on Britain's mental health wards. The part of the legal system that investigates these deaths often does so inadequately and therefore fails to reduce the numbers of these deaths. Lives are lost and there is no justice for their families.
I very much welcome the opportunity to give my view. As you will see, it has been formed from personal experience. For me the priority isn’t necessarily the introduction or repeal of one particular law; rather it is the way the legal system, or at least a certain part of it, ends up operating in a way that produces results that are far away from justice. Ken Clarke yesterday spoke of wanting to use the prison system to improve society – I couldn’t agree more. The legal system should also be there to improve society, but I think too many legal professionals don’t really care whether it does or not. Also the mechanics of how the system operates also often make it difficult for it to reach results that will improve society as a whole.
My own experience of the legal system is that it can operate in a way which is heavily biased towards the state at the expense of the individual citizen. Ask the many people who have had deaths of their loved ones who were in the ‘care’ of the state ‘investigated’ by coroner’s courts. I have been through such a sham and felt very let down and angry afterwards. My sister (whose birthday it would have been today) died three years ago whilst being ‘cared for’ on a mental health ward.
The inquest that followed was unsatisfactory and unjust on a number of levels. For one thing we as relatives, on totally unfamiliar territory, were left to fight our own case whilst the hospital trust was represented by its own very expensive lawyer paid for out of the public purse. The coroner tried to make out that we shouldn’t be concerned about this as he would represent us. Untrue as it turned out.
To think that I spent two days standing up out of respect every time that coroner came in to and left the room. He ended up using some perverse legal precedent as an excuse not to dispense justice and make the recommendations I know he should have done. He refused to find that the hospital was negligent despite the overwhelming evidence presented during the inquest that pointed to the fact that it had failed on a number of ways and on a number of levels. I use the word ‘negligent’ in the way an intelligent member of the public would understand it, and not the perverse and skewed legal definition he chose to apply. He explained that legal precedent had established that for the hospital to have been negligent it would either had had to have starved her, or one of its employees would have had to have seen my sister actually trying to take her life and done nothing about it. Anything else was OK as far as legal negligence was concerned.
He totally failed to use his powers to try and make sure such deaths would be less likely in the future. I feel that he really just wanted an easy life. Doing his job properly and using his position of power to improve things would have meant having to issue paperwork and maybe face an appeal from the hospital trust. The inquest ended up doing absolutely nothing to prevent the future deaths of hundreds other such very vulnerable people.- deaths which happen week in and week out on mental health wards across the country. No lessons were learned. Nothing was improved. People continue to die. And worst of all, I know that my experience is not untypical. This was no one-off. There are systematic failings in our mental health services and systematic failings in our legal system that is charged with investigating them. Insult was added to injury for my family.
Recently institutions such as parliament and banks have rightly come under close scrutiny. It is high time that the same happened with our mental health services and the part of our legal system whose job it is to investigate when things go wrong.
In terms of what I would like to see happen next:-
1) An enquiry to be held into to the current level of deaths occurring on mental health wards and hospitals. This enquiry should make recommendations of how these levels could be reduced.
2) All families to have their own free legal representation at inquests.
3) A review into how legal precedent is applied. Just because the law’s been applied and interpreted in a certain way in the past does not mean it should be applied and interpreted in the same way now. Achieving justice should have higher importance than what has been done previously.