Privy Council Addresses Unlawful Detention of Mentally Unfit Individuals in Recent Anthony Henry Case

Citation: [2023] UKPC 41
Judgment on

Introduction

In the recent judgment of Anthony Henry and another v Attorney General of St Lucia, the Privy Council (UKPC) addressed significant matters pertaining to the rights of individuals deemed unfit to stand trial and their subsequent detention, reviewing the compatibility of such detention with constitutional rights. The judgment sheds light on the intricate interaction between the measures taken for individuals unfit to plead and the constitutional safeguards against arbitrary deprivation of liberty and inhuman treatment.

Key Facts

The case centers around two appellants, Mr. Henry and Mr. Noel, who were charged with serious criminal offenses and found unfit to stand trial due to mental illness. Mr. Henry was detained for 24 years, and Mr. Noel for 32 years, both in prison awaiting the “Governor General’s pleasure.” The legal quandary arose from their prolonged detention in prison, the lack of periodic fitness-to-plead reviews, and whether such treatment amounted to a breach of their constitutional rights.

The Privy Council applied several legal principles drawn from St Lucia’s Constitution and other relevant legislation, primarily focusing on:

  1. Right to Personal Liberty (Section 3(1) of the Constitution): A person should not be deprived of liberty unless such deprivation is authorized by law under specific scenarios, including unfitness to plead due to mental health issues.

  2. Protection from Inhuman Treatment (Section 5 of the Constitution): No individual should be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

  3. Compatibility with the Criminal Code, Mental Hospitals Act (MHA), and Correctional Services Act (CSA): The judgments below had discrepancies interpreting these statutes, particularly whether a judge or the Governor General had authority to place an individual in prison as opposed to a mental hospital post-finding of unfitness to plead.

The Board analyzed these principles within the context of St Lucia’s Constitution, the nation’s criminal code, and the MHA. It held that lawful detention must be both “authorized by law” and fall within specific cases permitted by the Constitution. Moreover, the Board stressed the intention behind the detention, the due process involved in certification by medical practitioners, and the necessity of suitability of conditions for persons detained due to mental illness.

Outcomes

The Privy Council held that:

  1. Section 3(1) Breach: The appellants’ detention in prison was not “authorized by law” from the outset, constituting a breach of Section 3(1) due to a failure to properly implement legal procedures mandated for cases of unfitness to plead, and the Governor General had not been duly informed about their detention.

  2. Section 5 Non-Breach: The appellants’ treatment did not meet the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment since their mental health was being periodically reviewed by psychiatrists and necessary medical treatment was being provided. The absence of formal periodic reviews did not amount to treatment reaching the severity contemplated by Section 5.

  3. Damages Assessment: The Board determined that the assessment of damages made by the courts below was incorrect. Rather than using a daily rate, damages for long-term detention should be tapered, considering the unique facts and overall injury suffered by the individual.

  4. Remittal for Fresh Assessment: The Board remitted the cases to the High Court for a new assessment of damages for the violation of Section 3(1) of the Constitution, allowing both parties to introduce new evidence.

Conclusion

The judgment in Anthony Henry and another v Attorney General of St Lucia places a spotlight on the necessity of aligning the detention of individuals unfit to plead with constitutional requirements and attendant procedures. The Privy Council’s ruling underscores the importance of lawfulness in detention operations, the care warranted for detainees’ mental health, and the requirement for damages awarded to reflect the unique circumstances and overall harm. It also establishes a roadmap for future cases involving the intersection of mental health and justice, emphasizing procedural correctness and periodic evaluation not just from a medical perspective but also incorporating legal assessments.

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