Practices & Procedures
Divisions of the Board
The Act requires the Board to sit as a division of three members, except when conducting a periodic (annual) review, a review of the extension of a community treatment order (CTO), or a review of an interstate transfer. In these cases, the Board can be constituted by either a division of three members or a single member division. Each division of three is made up of a legal member, a psychiatrist member and a community member, whereas a single member division may be constituted by a member from any category. In the case of a three-member division, the legal member is required to be the chairperson.
Location of Hearings
The Board attends 52 venues on a regular basis (generally fortnightly), in some cases rather than attend in person, the Board conducts hearings via videoconference.
The responsibility for scheduling hearings rests with the administrative arm of the Board which, together with medical records staff at each of the mental health services, coordinate the attendance of patients and clinical team members at hearings.
On being made an involuntary patient by an approved mental health service, the patient’s details are entered into the statewide mental health database by the treating mental health service. The Board draws upon this information to schedule initial reviews, as well as periodic (annual) reviews if a person remains an involuntary patient for an extended period.
A hearing may also come about by an appeal being lodged under section 29. In most instances, appeal hearings are scheduled on the next sitting day when a division of the Board is due to visit the service where the person is receiving treatment.
A notice of a hearing is generally provided to the patient / consumer, the person making an appeal to the Board if it is someone other than the patient, and the authorised psychiatrist. Notices of a hearing are required to be given at least seven days before the day of the hearing. The Board may exercise its discretion to reduce this notice period.
The Act provides a framework for Board procedures, but also allows considerable discretion in determining the manner in which hearings should be conducted. Hearings aim to be informal, inclusive and non-adversarial. Given the nature of its work, the Board considers that this is the best way to achieve both fairness and efficiency, balancing the need to ensure that questions of liberty are dealt with appropriately and thoroughly, while remaining mindful of not disrupting the therapeutic relationship between patients / consumers and their treating teams.
Hearings are usually conducted in a meeting or seminar room of the mental health service where the patient / consumer is being treated. Generally, those present at a hearing, other than the Board members, are the patient / consumer and the treating doctor (who attends as the representative of the authorised psychiatrist). When a person is on a CTO their case manager will often attend as well – something the Board encourages strongly. In some cases, friends and relatives of the patient / consumer also attend.
Attendance at hearings
The MHRB encourages every person to attend their hearing. The decision about whether or not a person should be treated as an involuntary patient is very significant. For this reason it is always better if we speak to people directly and understand what they think.
A hearing is an opportunity to express your opinion, and to ask questions about being an involuntary patient. Even if the Board decides a person’s involuntary status should continue, the discussion can be useful for discussing concerns and for planning future treatment.
However, the Board accepts that patients / consumers may choose not to attend their hearing, and we respect that choice. If a person does not wish to attend their hearing we ask them to complete and return a non-attendance form and we finalise their review in their absence.
The Board provides interpreters whenever requested by a patient / consumer or a mental health service. Even though a person may have basic English skills, this may not be adequate in the situation of a hearing involving complex legal and clinical issues. Availability of a competent professional interpreter is important in ensuring that patients can fully understand and participate in the hearing process.
Some people are unable to present their cases as well as they might wish because of their illness, or they may be reluctant to speak openly at a Board hearing. The presence of an advocate provides support and ensures that the patient’s / consumer's rights are appropriately protected. Legal representation is not an automatic right in Victoria and it is the responsibility of patient's / consumers to arrange their own representation. Both the Mental Health Legal Centre and Victoria Legal Aid regularly provide free legal representation at hearings.