Disabled man unlawfully detained in psychiatric ward

AN INTELLECTUALLY disabled man charged with car theft was unlawfully kept for eight months in a hospital psychiatric ward's high-dependence unit without any leave.

Justice Jean Dalton has delivered a scathing judgment of the treatment of N, 23, as a "classified'' patient in a unit where very ill people are often only kept for a few hours.

"I find that there was never any lawful basis for his being held as a classified patient,'' Justice Dalton said in a decision on December 1, after hearings about N's treatment.

The judge said the young man had far less freedom in eight months in Bundaberg Hospital than violent classified patients at the state's main mental health facility, The Park, at Wacol.

"In four years on the Mental Health Court I can only remember a handful of patients who have had no leave. They have been very dangerous individuals indeed,'' Justice Dalton said.

The judge criticised the state's Chief Psychiatrist and former director of Mental Health, Dr John Allan, saying he apparently did not understand the criteria for detaining classified patients.

The Chief Psychiatrist knew N was a classified patient and ought to have known he did not need to be detained in hospital for treatment of any illness, Justice Dalton said.

Justice Jean Dalton.
Justice Jean Dalton. Courier Mail

"It distressed him and caused him harm,'' the judge said.

Justice Dalton only found out in June that N had been virtually imprisoned at Bundaberg Hospital's HDU since November last year, after finding him permanently unfit to stand trial.

Appearing in the Mental Health Court via video link, N said: "I've been at the hospital for 220 days, eight months ... Am I at least allowed to go on bail and go for a walk?''

He had been sent to the hospital from jail, after being remanded for car stealing and unlicensed driving.

"In the entire eight months he was detained as a classified patient N was granted no leave, not even on to the grounds of the hospital,'' Justice Dalton said.

She said three-quarters of the state's classified patients, almost all of whom had committed violent offences, were kept at The Park.

Yet even patients in its high secure program could walk around within 1770sq m grounds, play tennis, go to the gym, play basketball and swim in a pool.

Justice Dalton said the Public Guardian, which acted for N, had also neglected his interests.

While in hospital, N lost his accommodation and had no prospect of being granted bail.

Justice Dalton has since found another young man was detained in a high-dependency unit for six months, when it was partly unjustified.

The Chief Psychiatrist is reviewing policies for classified patients.

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