SHC orders authorities to help people with mental disorder

Updated May 25, 2019

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Sindh High Court wants official teams sent to public places, including shrines, to find such persons and get them treated. — PPI/File
Sindh High Court wants official teams sent to public places, including shrines, to find such persons and get them treated. — PPI/File

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed all the commissioners and the senior superintendents of police to constitute special committees to visit public places across the province to find out persons with mental health issues and refer them to the Sindh Mental Health Authority for their proper care and treatment.

A single bench, headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar, issued these directives while hearing a petition seeking enforcement of the Sindh Mental Health Act, 2013 and provision of facilities for the persons with mental health issues, including establishing shelters for them, in the province.

The petition, Erum Shaheen, submitted through her counsel, Mohammad Qadir Khan, that in terms of sections 3, 4, 6 and others of the Sindh Mental Health Act, 2013 the provincial authorities were required to establish a mental health authority and board for providing facilities, including places of shelter, for such persons, but they had failed to do so till today.

The counsel argued that Section 19 of the Act provided that if any harm was caused to anyone by a person suffering from mental ailments, such an act would not be considered an offence.

Wants official teams sent to public places, including shrines, to find such persons and get them treated

Justice Salahuddin Ahmed said in his order that a careful attention to Section 19 of the Act by the police would not only help the persons suffering from mental disorder, but also help in ensuring safety of others.

Therefore, an action within the proviso is always required to be encouraged but subject to proper exercise of judicious mind in reaching the conclusion that whether there are reasons to believe that such a person was suffering from mental disorder.

The judge directed all the commissioners, deputy commissioners and the senior superintendents of police to constitute special committees to visit public places, including shrines and graveyards, and if any person having such ailment was found, he/she should be referred for treatment to the authority concerned.

He further directed that the purpose of Section 19 be highlighted and explained to all police officials that if the same was exploited, it would expose the guilty to the legal action and such an action must be a bona fide one.

Prisoners with mental disorder

The judge observed that Chapter IX of the Act also provided for the inspection of prisoners with mental disorder and ordered all the district and sessions’ judges to ensure during their visits to prisons that all such inmates, having mental disorder, be referred to the authority.

He also directed the IG for prisons to visit the prisons and submit a report that how many prisoners were suffering from mental ailment in all the prisons in the province, including the women and juveniles jails.

The court order stated that since ‘place of safety’and ‘psychiatric facility’, as defined in the Act, was specific and meant for the special purpose, but the same purpose could not be achieved by the authority unless the details were available.

The court directed all the commissioners as well as the director-general and the secretary for health to provide details of the facilities with regard to mental health, including the hospitals, centres, homes in the public or private sectors, for the mentally challenged persons. They were also told to point out the buildings or lands which were specified for the purpose but were occupied by any authority or private persons.

The SHC also called a report from the authority and the board, constituted under sections 3 and 4 of the Sindh Mental Health Act, 2013 with regard to hold meetings and start initiatives for which they were established.

It ordered the chief secretary to ensure the establishment of the mental health authority and board if the same had not been set up in terms of the provisions of the Act so far. Besides, the health secretary was told to submit details of the strength of psychiatrists working in Sindh in the public sector.

The bench also directed the district health officer concerned to depute two doctors, one each physician and psychiatrist, to visit the house of the petitioner’s sister, examine her, provide her necessary health facilities and submit a detailed report by July 10.

The judge directed the office to communicate the order through all modes to the provincial authorities concerned; particularly it directed the SHC’s Member Inspection Team-II office to also communicate this order to all district and sessions judges.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2019