A woman has won a legal battle against a mental health tribunal over its refusal to provide her with the the reasons for releasing her son’s killer into the community
In a boost to open justice, a high court judge ruled that the tribunal unlawfully rejected requests for information from Teresa Maher, who feared that her son’s killer still posed a risk.
Maher’s son Kyle was 21 when Richard Wilson-Michael stabbed him to death in 2017 in supported accommodation in Tooting, south-west London, where both men were living under the care of mental health services.
After being convicted of manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility, Wilson-Michael, who had paranoid schizophrenia, was detained in hospital.
On 9 February 2021, the first-tier tribunal (mental health) directed his immediate conditional discharge in proceedings that were, as is customary, held in private. After finding out three days later, Teresa Maher began a battle to find out the reasons for his release but was rebuffed by the tribunal.
In a judgment handed down earlier this month, Mrs Justice Stacey found that the tribunal had initially been operating an unlawful blanket policy of never providing reasons for its judgments to victims.
When the tribunal’s deputy chamber president considered the matter a year later, the decision was again unlawful, Stacey said, because it failed to correctly balance Wilson-Michael’s right to privacy with Teresa Maher’s right to family life under the Human Rights Act and the principles of open justice.
Teresa Maher, 45, said: “The way they refused to give us any information was disrespectful and undignified and it’s unbelievable that the tribunal has so far been treating all bereaved families like this whenever releasing a patient.
“We recognise that mentally unwell people need treatment. But when a patient has committed such a serious crime the government owes it to victims to explain why they are deemed safe to be released so soon afterwards. Courts shouldn’t be allowed to operate in secret when there’s so much at stake.
“We hope this judgment brings some balance to the system and families in our position can start to understand why these decisions are being made.”
The court heard that one of the reasons the family were so keen to have more information about Wilson-Michael’s discharge was that they had lost confidence in the authorities, as a result of failings by Wandsworth Early Intervention Services in relation to Wilson-Michael’s care. An inquest jury found its failings “possibly caused or contributed to” Kyle Maher’s death.
His sister Billie Lovegrove, 29, said: “The main thing for us is just to find out why he (Wilson-Michael) was released so quickly and see proof that he has been rehabilitated. We want to know the grounds to reassure us that people will be safe.”
The family’s solicitor, Jag Bahra, from Saunders Law, said the silence surrounding Wilson-Michael’s release was the final insult after “they were failed by practically every institution involved in the events that led to his (Kyle Maher’s) death.
“The tribunal is perhaps the last court left operating in near total secrecy and we now hope to see more transparency as a result of this decision. It’s a victory for victims’ rights and for open justice.”
Julian Hendy, director of Hundred Families, which supports families affected by mental health-related homicides, said the high court judgment “shines a very welcome light on a very dark corner of the criminal justice system”.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our deepest sympathies remain with Kyle Maher’s family and we will carefully consider this judgment.”
They said the victims bill “will make sure their voices are better heard at every stage of the justice system”.