Shining a light behind closed doors – Eleanore Fritze on her research
In 2015 I travelled overseas to explore how legal services can best protect the human rights and dignity of people with disabilities who have been detained in closed environments for compulsory treatment. I undertook this research as part of a Churchill Fellowship, sponsored by the Jack Brockhoff Foundation.
My first stop was New York. The Bronx Psychiatric Center to be precise: a huge, dated, office-looking building for 360 patients. Rather than a specialist tribunal, hearings to determine whether patients should be released are conducted by the New York Supreme Court, either in a room at the hospital (set up as much as possible like a court) or in the formal court building itself.
The hearings are open to the public and are recorded. A lawyer from the Attorney-General’s office represents the state hospitals and prosecutes the cases. Even where a negotiated settlement is reached between the parties on the ‘steps’ of court, the State calls the psychiatrist to the stand to give evidence under oath/affirmation. ‘Defence’ counsel may – or may not – call their client to give evidence as well. Just like on TV, these adversarial hearings are full of motions and objections by counsel on both sides, sometimes quite heated, many of which relate to the application of the rules of evidence and in particular the exclusion of hearsay and historical evidence.
Read more of Eleanore's blog
'Shining a light behind closed doors' will be launched on Thursday 11 August. Register
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