Case seeks to establish constitutional right for lawyer in mental health hearings.

Case seeks to establish constitutional right for lawyer in mental health hearings.

Case used to establish right to mental health lawyer

NANAIMO – Woman involuntarily held at Nanaimo hospital seeks constitutional right to lawyer at mental health hearing.

A woman claiming she is being detained against her will after being admitted to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital in July has launched a lawsuit against the B.C. Ministry of Justice.

The other respondents’ names in the lawsuit are the Legal Services Society and the Community Legal Assistance Society.

The 39-year-old homeless woman’s name and current location are under a publication ban, but the woman, known as Z.B. in court documents provided to the News Bulletin, filed the suit in B.C. Supreme Court last Friday, said Kate Feeney, a B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre lawyer and the petitioner’s co-counsel.

Feeney said her client went to the hospital on a voluntary basis, expected to get help on a voluntary basis and then was involuntarily admitted, although Feeney said she couldn’t comment on the reasons due to confidentiality. The woman claims she was initially denied legal assistance through the normal application process for legal aid.

The suit seeks to establish a constitutional right to a lawyer for a B.C. Mental Health Review Board hearing scheduled for Tuesday (Aug. 23), said Feeney.

“That [declaration] is the final relief we’re seeking. At the end of the road, we want to establish that right,” said Feeney.

She and co-counsel Mark Underhill, from Underhill Gage Litigation, were seeking an injunction requiring the government to provide a lawyer for the hearing, but that has been settled, as the province has agreed to provide one.

However, Feeney said the case will still proceed to a full hearing, which she hopes will take place in the fall.

The fact the provincial government is providing counsel for the Aug. 23 hearing doesn’t negate the lawsuit, said Feeney.

“The final relief that we’ve always been seeking since Day 1 is that declaration that she has the constitutional right. The fact they settled the injunction hasn’t stopped our case from going ahead,” said Feeney.

The Legal Services Society has confirmed with the province that the petitioner will have a lawyer, provided through the Community Legal Assistance Society, for her scheduled Aug. 23 hearing, the B.C. Ministry of Justice said.

The ministry said it is unable to provide any further comment while the matter is being litigated.

Feeney, whose firm is a non-profit, and Underhill are both offering their services free of charge.