The Legal Environment

There are many Solicitors who provide support and legal representation for patients with mental illness. It is important if your loved one has been hospitalized that you seek free legal advice and have a solicitor to represent them. The following needs to be considered when finding a solicitor

  • Ensure they are registered with the Law Society
  • Seek a solicitor who has expertise in mental health and sectioning
  • Ensure they are registered with the Mental Health Lawyers Association
  • All sectioned patients are entitled to free legal aid

If your loved ones have been placed in Residential Care, the Courts of Protection have introduced new rules to handle the rise in legal challenges in relation to vulnerable adults and it is important to have legal advice in relation to these new rules. (It refers to the Court of Protection (Amendment) Rules 2015.

Police Roles

In recent years the Police have seen an increased rise of their use of Section 136 powers as a direct result of decreased funding to support mental health programmes, and psychiatric staffing in the community. Families of Autistic adults who are experiencing a crisis and have to use the Police will need to be aware of what to expect when their loved one is taken to a police station to be sectioned. Please read about the Police in this Guardian article.

Survival Tips if your Autistic Adult is at the Police Station:

  • Ensure you tell the Police Officer that your loved one has Autism
  • Ask if they can have an appropriate adult to support them and explain what is happening
  • Take their medicine and pill box to the police station as they may need their medications to be administered as planned.
  • The custody Sergeant is responsible for keeping the person safe and particularly if they are vulnerable and have mental illness and are Autistic
  • Signs that an Autistic person is becoming overwhelmed with anxiety can include increased yelling, hand-flapping, pacing, or self-injury behaviour like hand biting, head banging.
  • Ask for them to be separated from other in-mates as this can cause increased anxiety
  • Take an over-night bag of clothes and toiletries
  • Suggest that they give your loved one space and time to process what is happening.
  • The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE, 1984) will explain the guidelines if you are arrested.

For more information on detaining autistic adults click here.


The first tier Tribunal is an independent panel from the Mental Health Act. As a sectioned patient you are entitled to free legal aid and ensure that you get a solicitor appointed immediately. In some cases, Solicitors have approached sectioned patients in the hospital and inappropriately represented them for discharge at Tribunals. To ensure this is prevented it is important to have a legal representative appointed who will represent their best interests. The Nearest Relative should also seek legal advice although this is not free, it allows them powers to direct care for the wellbeing of the patient.

What are the goals of the Tribunal:

  • Discharge the patient from Section
  • Recommend that a patient gets leave from the hospital
  • Recommend a community treatment order and be treated outside of the hospital
  • Delay discharge or recommend conditional discharge
  • Transfer the patient to another facility or rehab
  • Follow up on recommendations

Hospitals are not legally obliged to follow tribunal recommendations.

Important timeline for Tribunal applications:

Section 2 – you can apply for a tribunal within 14 days of your detention

Section 3 – you can appeal for tribunal one time within the first 6 months of your detention. Your section can be renewed after 6 months.

Section 37 – You can apply to the tribunal after first 6 months of detention and then once in each renewal period.

Tribunals can be stressful environments for autistic people or someone suffering from mental illness. They do not have to attend in person and can have their Solicitor represent them, or they can be accompanied by a member of staff to give them support and come for some of the time. Tribunals can take up to several hours with different healthcare professionals.