T&T woman forcibly taken to mental hospital back home

(Trinidad Express) Cheryl Miller is now back at her Belmont home.

Miller walked out of the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital at 5.20 p.m. yesterday after a Port of Spain High Court judge granted a habeas corpus writ, which sought to have her immediately released from the hospital.

The writ to have Miller released was filed by Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke and People’s National Movement (PNM) Senators Fitzgerald Hinds and Faris Al-Rawi late on Thursday night and was brought before the High Court at an emergency sitting yesterday.

The matter was heard before Justice Vashist Kokaram at 2.30 p.m. yesterday, on the Good Friday holiday, and ended just after 4.30 p.m.

The small courtroom was filled with members from both factions of the divided PSA and Miller’s co-workers and family members, including her sister Doreen Miller and brother Hamilton Groden.

Her sister, who was tense and kept her eyes closed and head bowed for most of the proceedings, showed only a small smile when Kokaram delivered the final release order.

Miller, who was forcibly removed from her desk at the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development 15 days ago and kept under watch at the mental institution, yesterday walked out in the company of her elder brother and sister.

Duke was with them as well.

In an urgent High Court hearing yesterday, Justice Kokaram ruled in Miller’s favour and granted an immediate but temporary release until the second hearing of the case on Friday.

Kokaram said he saw no reason why Miller could not be monitored by willing family members over the long holiday weekend.

“What is the harm in her conditional release?” he asked both legal teams.

Miller was represented by Senior Counsel Stanley Marcus, Hinds and junior attorneys from Equity Chambers, who argued that the granted habeus corpus writ was violated as Miller was not presented by the hospital at the court yesterday as expected.

But while attorney for the State Vashiest Maharaj admitted he had no time to prepare and said he only looked at the writ an hour before appearing before the court, he argued that the institution was in the right for not bringing Miller to the court.

Marcus argued that while Miller had everything to gain, the hospital had nothing to lose.

“There is no harm. Once she is released in a discreet and dignified manner,” Marcus said.

The State attorney was mandated to produce any evidence that Miller fell under Section 15:1 of the Mental Health Act, which was the sole explanation that he gave for the removal of Miller from her desk.

Section 15 (1) of the Act describes the circumstances in which a mental health officer may apprehend an individual for the purpose of admission: if a person found wandering at large on a highway or in any public place and who, by reason of his appearance, conduct or conversation, a mental health officer has reason to believe is mentally ill and in need of care and treatment in a psychiatric hospital or ward, may be taken into custody and conveyed to such hospital or ward for admission for observation in accordance with this section.

Marcus countered that that section was specific to homeless people and others who roamed aimlessly, not someone sitting at a desk in an office. Kokaram agreed.

Maharaj also stated that Miller’s sister was aware of her sister’s “episodes” but never disclosed them to the hospital.

Miller is expected to have her case reviewed by an independent psychiatrist next Wednesday and to take her prescribed medications up until Friday’s hearing.

“It’s a relief. I am looking forward to her coming home and fitting back into her work as normal,” sister Doreen said after the ruling yesterday.

“It had me real stressed out. I used to be visiting her three times a day. I was a nuisance to them,” she said.

Miller said she hoped her sister would be able to go back to her job at the Ministry without any prejudice or “stigma” attached to her after the stay at the mental institution.

 

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