Mental Health Review Tribunals were introduced in the Mental Health Act (1959) to safeguard psychiatric patients against unjustified detention in hospital. The powers of tribunals form “an important part of the fabric of civil liberties” (Wood, 1974). However, in exercising their prime function of preventing unjust detention, tribunals in practice also have to take into account patients' clinical needs and the protection of the public. Further weight was added to this complex burden of decision making following a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in 1981 which upheld the right of all detained patients to a periodic judicial review of their detention. As a result of this judgement the Mental Health Act (1983) extended tribunal powers to include the release of offender patients sentenced by Crown courts and given hospital orders with restrictions on discharge. Such individuals may have been convicted of grave criminal offences, and their discharge or transfer from hospital would otherwise require the consent of the Home Office.
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