A barrister friend sent me a copy of Jonathan Rayner’s moving and disturbing article on his family’s experience of the law and mental health (see  Gazette, 5 March, 14).
I find myself in the midst of the psychiatric and criminal systems following my own son’s recent mental breakdown. It is a very confusing journey, so it is helpful to understand how common these experiences are, and to have some guidance from people who have successfully navigated the somewhat byzantine systems. I am keeping a diary of events and searching out information.
One of our recent problems has been in relation to the legal aid system. Due to an administrative error, two sets of solicitors (one a duty solicitor and one I had approached) were in touch with the police station where my son was held. He was not able to see a solicitor because of his mental state. We thought we had transferred the legal aid, following the initial appearance at the magistrates’ court, only to find that a week before he was due to plead, that we needed to make further representations despite the fact that both sets of solicitors had agreed to the transfer.
It is these kinds of experiences which make the whole system very complex for lay people and require a degree of persistence. I doubt that many people have the energy or time required to give to their relatives’ cases, especially as it involves taking time off work to attend court and make prison or hospital visits during the working week.
I am heartened to hear that there will be changes to the law in relation to mental health cases, but am worried that the process is still unlikely to be smooth. Please keep writing about cases that illuminate the pitfalls and ways of negotiating the complex systems of mental health and the law.
Dr Anna Bowman, London