Supreme Court: Man was made Ward of Court in lawful exercise of High Court’s wardship jurisdiction

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

A man who was made a Ward of Court four days before he was due to be released from the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) has lost his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Counsel for the man had argued that because he satisfied the statutory criteria for admission to the CMH under the Mental Health Act 2001, the High Court was only entitled to apply that Act – and that by making a wardship application, the Health Service Executive was attempting to “circumvent” the Mental Health Act 2001.

Dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice John MacMenamin said the orders for the man’s wardship and continued detention were both “necessary” and “appropriate”.


The appellant, AM, was described as having an extensive history of criminal charges and convictions, including early convictions for criminal damage, assault and public order offences.

In 2001, he was diagnosed as having a delusional disorder involving paranoid beliefs.

The Court heard that AB carried a butcher’s knife, ostensibly for his own protection, and that he had threatened health professionals on a number of occasions.

In September 2001, he was arrested and charged with the murder of a homeless man by stabbing. He was found guilty of manslaughter and in February 2004, he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment reduced to seven years on appeal.

With backdating and remission, in April 2007, AM was discharged from prison to community living accommodation. During the period when he was at liberty, AM’s aggression caused concern to his own family.

In January 2008, AM attended a local hospital complaining of serious mental stress and was to consult with a psychiatrist and a psychologist.

Dissatisfied with his treatment, AM stabbed both the psychiatrist and psychologist. Thereafter, AM was arrested and transferred from Limerick Prison to the Central Mental Hospital.

In May 2009, AM was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for assault causing serious harm, with a concurrent three-year sentence for assault causing harm - no plea of insanity was raised at the trial. Following his conviction, AM remained in the CMH.

High Court

In November 2016, Counsel for the HSE made an ex parte application to the High Court. It was submitted that because of his mental condition, AM posed a serious threat to his own life and welfare, and to the life and welfare of others. The HSE sought for AM to be made a Ward of Court and asked the High Court to make orders for his future detention in the CMH.

The sworn evidence of treating psychiatrists was that AM:

  • Continued to lack insight into his condition;
  • Had significantly impaired intelligence;
  • Had been threatening and aggressive to fellow patients;
  • Had a continuing risk of opportunistic absconding or escaping;
  • Required restriction and monitoring of his access to weapons;
  • Represented a specific risk to his family if released
  • Posed a risk to the clinicians treating him
  • Had a history of violent behaviour even when not in a delusional state

AM met the diagnostic criteria doe schizophrenia and continued to suffer from active symptoms of that disorder – therefore he suffered from a “mental disorder” as defined in s.1 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 and also came within the category of mental disorder defined in s.3 of the Mental Health Act 2001.

The evidence also established that he was a person of “unsound mind”, lacking the capacity to manage his affairs or live independently in the community – and  fulfilled the legal criteria to be made a ward of court, absent any other consideration.

In the High Court, Counsel for AM submitted that a wardship order should not be made, and that an order for AM’s continued detention could only be made pursuant to the Mental Health Acts 1945 to 2001. It was submitted that the Mental Health Act 2001 contained statutory safeguards not provided for in wardship applications, and that by making a wardship application, the HSE was attempting to “circumvent” the Mental Health Act 2001.

Faced with the possibility that AM would be released into the community within 4 days, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, President of the High Court, acceded to the HSE’s applications on an interlocutory basis. In March 2017, President Kelly made AM a Ward of Court and, in the exercise of that discretion, ordered his detention at the Central Mental Hospital.

Supreme Court

Counsel for AM submitted that President Kelly was only entitled to apply the Mental Health Act 2001, as AM satisfied the statutory criteria for admission to the CMH under that Act.

Counsel for the HSE submitted that this was simply not feasible, and that unsuccessful efforts had been made to invoke and apply the “unwieldy” procedure under the Mental Health Act 2001.

Mr Justice MacMenamin considered the Mental Health Act 2001 in detail, and wardship jurisprudence – in particular In re FD [2015] IESC 83; [2015] 1 IR 741. Mr Justice MacMenamin also considered In re D [1987] 1 IR 449, In re a Ward of Court [1996] 2 IR 79, Mr Justice MacMenamin said there was nothing in the Mental Treatment Act 1945 or its successors which removed or delimited the wardship jurisdiction of the High Court and Circuit Court in relation to persons of “unsound mind”. He said that the courts had a continuing power to order detention by way of wardship for the “care or commitment” of persons of unsound mind, if that action was necessary and appropriate. While orders may not be made simultaneously under both jurisdictions, Mr Justice MacMenamin said that there was nothing to prevent  “mirror orders” to protect rights being made in the exercise of the wardship jurisdiction.

Considering In re D, Mr Justice MacMenamin said that the unavoidable logic of the situation in this case was that the decision and orders made were “necessary” and “appropriate”. He said that this was one of the unusual cases where the parallel lines between the two jurisdictions met – i.e. the wardship jurisdiction and the jurisdiction under the Mental Health Act. Mr Justice MacMenamin said that the evidence in this case met the requirements for the invocation of either jurisdiction.

In reality, Mr Justice MacMenamin said, there was no other legal option but to make the order sought - President Kelly’s decision was “necessary” to vindicate AM’s constitutional right to life and welfare, and it was “necessary” to protect the rights to life and welfare of other persons.

Mr Justice MacMenamin said that to admit AM into wardship was also appropriate in this case- and that even though he was admitted into wardship - the essential safeguards and protections as regards procedural rights, review by the courts, consent and treatment could be no less than if he had been admitted to the CMH under the Mental Health Acts.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2019

Other judgments by Mr Justice John MacMenamin