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Viberts Partner, Rebecca Morley-Kirk represents defendant in landmark mental health case

Rebecca Morley-Kirk, Partner at law firm Viberts in Jersey, has acted in a landmark Royal Court case, which saw, for the first time, a defendant ordered to receive treatment in a secure UK psychiatric unit.

The sentence, which was handed down on Monday 16 September, was the first of its kind issued since the Mental Health (Jersey) Law 2016 came into force in October last year.

The defendant, had had a long history of mental illness, having been diagnosed nearly 20 years ago with chronic schizophrenia and traits of emotionally unstable personality disorder. She had, however, received no intensive treatment, having only been prescribed medication in recent years.

The Defendant stabbed a man, with whom she had been in a relationship, in an unprovoked attack at her home on 13 August 2018. The victim suffered several cuts to his head, chest and arm.

As a result, she was sent to a medium secure unit in the UK December 2018 where she was put under the care of a consultant psychiatrist. It was decided that she had the capacity to recognise her actions and enter a plea to the single charge of grave and criminal assault. She subsequently pleaded ‘guilty’ which lead to the sentencing hearing.

During the sentencing, the Royal Court Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith – sitting with Jurats Steven Austin-Vautier and Jane Ronge – heard from Professor Eastman, Emeritus Professor of Law and Ethics in Psychiatry at the University of London.

He stated that a “confluence” between her mental health and a particular situation had triggered the attack and that she had become “overwhelmed by the emotional response to a particular stressor.” He told the court that the Defendant did not constitute a “risk to the general public” because she only appeared to be violent “in very close intimate relationships” under “very specific circumstances”.

The Court then heard from the consultant forensic psychiatrist, Dr Vivek Bisht, who has been looking after the Defendant since she was sent to the facility in December. Not only did he feel that she was progressing well in her treatment, but that sending her back to prison would be counterproductive and increase the risk of her harming herself.

Solicitor General Mark Temple requested that the Court make a treatment order as well as a restriction order, thus giving the “reassurance that while she is undergoing treatment she won’t be discharged unless by order of the court.”

The Court decided to follow the conclusions of the Crown and made a treatment order for the Defendant to remain at the facility. She won’t be able to be discharged, transferred or granted leave or absence unless Jersey’s Royal Court orders it.

She will also have to be examined by a responsible officer every six months who will have to report to the Attorney General as to whether the restriction order should continue or if further treatment is needed.

Advocate Rebecca Morley-Kirk, the Defendant’s lawyer, agreed that prison would not be the right course of action for her client. “It’s a great shame that she didn’t receive proper psychiatric support over the years, rather than simply being given medication, as this may well have helped her considerably more.

Thankfully she is responding well to the treatment she has been receiving and this should help her develop strategies for coping with the type of stressors that led to this situation in the first place.”

Advocate Morley-Kirk added that the Defendant was incredibly sorry for committing the offence and did not want to find herself in court again.

This is first occasion the Royal Court has been asked to make a final treatment order under the 2016 Mental Health Law combined with a restriction order.

As Advocate Morley-Kirk concludes: “The Law came into force on 1 October 2018. Amongst other things, it enables a treatment order to be imposed on an individual who suffers from a mental disorder. The Court has the discretion to impose this kind of order as opposed to a prison sentence and this is what happened in this case.

One of the criteria that the Court considers is whether the culpability was reduced because of the mental disorder. Although these kind of orders have been commonplace in the UK for a number of years, they have not been available to the Jersey courts in the same way.

This is a really important development because it enables the underlying mental disorder to be treated in an appropriate manner. Ultimately this is more likely to be of benefit to the community as well as to the defendant.”

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