W v Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council [2003] EWHC 192 (Admin)

Mental health – conditional discharge – failure to fulfil conditions – false imprisonment

W suffered from schizophrenia and had a long history of mental illness.  He was hospitalised under s37 MHA 1983, with a restriction order made under s41, after stabbing at a woman repeatedly with a knife. W’s condition improved dramatically and he was referred to the Mental Health Review Tribunal which found that he was no longer suffering from a mental condition.  The MHRT was satisfied that W could be conditionally discharged provided that W received psychiatric treatment from a named doctor; W received social supervision from a named social worker and W lived at appropriate accommodation approved by the doctor and the social worker. The local authority was unable to fulfil the third condition, concerning W’s accommodation and therefore W was not discharged.

W brought an action for damages for false imprisonment against the local authority, claiming it had a duty under s117 MHA 1983 to provide a care plan for W before the tribunal hearing and had failed to do so; and that, in breaching its s117 duty, the LA had prolonged his detention and therefore infringed his art 5 rights under the Convention by committing the tort of false imprisonment.

Rejecting W’s contentions, the Court held that the tort of false imprisonment was only committed when the imprisonment was unlawful under domestic law and W’s detention was not unlawful. False imprisonment was a tort of intention rather than negligence. It was not the LA’s intention to detain W and it had never itself detained him. Further, The LA was under no duty to make arrangements for W’s aftercare before the tribunal hearing. The LA had complied with its duty as it had used its best endeavours to try to find accommodation suitable for W.

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