Reviewed by: Richard Charlton
Author: Philip Fennell, Penny Letts and Jonathan Wilson
Publisher: Law Society Publishing
It demonstrates the beleaguered nature of mental health legal practice under public funding that 14 years have lapsed since the last book for practitioners in this critical field. So critical, indeed, that this is one of few areas of legal practice where legal aid is available without means-testing to meet core European convention requirements. There have been other books on mental health law in this time, but the last decade has not seen a specialist publication addressed to legal representation.
It was worth the wait. The three highly experienced authors have pulled together in one concise volume all the necessary strands of this highly complex area of practice. Concisely placing the challenging law of this jurisdiction in its historical context, the book takes readers through proper case preparation step by step, up to the tribunal hearing and beyond, with the Upper Tribunal and aftercare issues.
On the way it deals with the minutiae of legal aid applications, through to the often complex professional conduct issues arising with respect to highly vulnerable clients (frequently with a lack of capacity). There is also a useful summary of disorders and applicable medications, together with a valuable collection of practice notes, legal extracts and guidance. This jurisdiction has altered significantly in the last decade and there has been a welter of legal changes. All are summarised with great clarity; although not at the price of proper referencing, which is systematically thorough.
One criticism is that experienced practitioners might want further discussion on certain topics. However, this is not the purpose of the book, which would then become expansive and unwieldy. The other downside is the cost. In these challenging times £70 requires a second thought. However, the merits of the book clearly outweigh this doubt, and having the vast majority of required material in one location will ultimately save time – and money. And the timing could not be better, as the Legal Aid Agency will now require panel membership as a contract requirement for advocacy before the tribunal.
This book will make the ideal companion to those seeking accreditation. Let us hope we do not have to wait another 14 years for the next edition.
Richard Charlton is chair of the Mental Health Lawyers Association and head of mental health at Creighton & Partners