Munby keeps up pressure over suicide risk girl

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Aug 08, 2017
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Sir James Munby had condemned difficulties in finding adequate protection from the girl who is to be released from a secure unit

Chris Harris for The Times

A senior judge has warned health service officials that he will not hesitate to hold them legally accountable if a teenage girl at risk of suicide is not found suitable care by Thursday.

Sir James Munby, the president of the family division of the High Court, caused an outcry last week when he bemoaned the state of NHS mental health care for young people. The judge said that he and the authorities would have “blood on our hands” if the 17-year-old was discharged from a secure unit without adequate protection and went on to kill herself.

In a statement issued yesterday, Sir James said he welcomed a commitment from NHS England officials to transfer the teenager to an appropriate care unit where she would receive “a bespoke package of care”. The judge said that officials had committed to providing that care for between three and four weeks and that a longer term care plan would be put in place after that.

However, Sir James, who is the most senior family law judge in England and Wales, ordered NHS England to file all paperwork evidence that the care plan was being carried out with the court by tomorrow. The judge went on to warn health service officials that “if need be, and I very much hope that the need will not arise, there will be a further hearing later this week”.

In his latest court statement Sir James indicated that he thought that if he had not spoken out in such strong terms last week, the girl, known as X, would have been discharged without a care plan in place. He said: “I cannot escape the powerful feeling that, but for my judgment, the steps subsequently taken would have been neither as effective nor as speedily effective as appears to have been the case.” 

However, he went on to say that was “not a matter for congratulation”. Instead, he said: “It is, of itself, yet further cause for concern. The provision of the care that someone like X needs should not be dependent upon judicial involvement, nor should someone like X be privileged just because her case comes before a very senior judge. I emphasise this because a mass of informed, if anecdotal, opinion indicates that X’s is not an isolated case and that there are far too many young women in similar predicaments. How are they to be protected?”

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