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A personal view from Florence Evennett – Mental Health paralegal

One in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. It has even seriously affected some people who are very close to me. I am sure that this has contributed to me having a passion to help vulnerable people in any way possible. My job at Peter Edwards Law gives me a platform to help fight for their rights.

I have been an employee at Peter Edwards Law for just over two years. It has been such an interesting journey in that I was completely unaware of this area of law when I joined, even though mental health is such a pressing issue and I have studied law at various levels.

My journey as a paralegal in the Mental Health Tribunal department started when I joined the department 18 months ago.

My role primarily consists of visiting clients who are detained under the Mental Health Act at various hospitals, rehab units and community placements. I help my colleagues with the preparation for Tribunals and all issues relating to the Mental Health Act.

We work with a variety of clients with a broad range of mental disorders, especially those with a mental illness. We take a person centred approach so that no two visits are ever the same. On one day I could be visiting an acute psychiatric unit seeing an old lady with dementia. She needs a lot of support and reassurance from me, and the next I could be going to a secure unit seeing someone with Paranoid Schizophrenia who has committed a string of serious offences.

In these units many clients are in seclusion or long term segregation. On the face of it these can be unpredictable places as there can be violent and/or impulsive outbursts sometimes caused by derogatory auditory hallucinations, delusions or other symptoms deriving from their various illnesses. However, as a result of my skills and training most of my visits proceed as expected.

I really enjoy the diversity and challenge of working in the hospitals. Good people skills are essential and you have to assess how to approach different situations. Treating people with respect and humanity work wonders.

At this stage of my career I am only permitted to represent clients at Hospital Managers Hearings, however, I am currently working to obtain my Mental Health Accreditation which will allow me to conduct tribunals.

The path to becoming an accredited member is challenging. The accreditation process consists of a multiple choice online exam and an interview which consists of two parts, a practice and professional conduct assessment and also a case study assessment. It is only right that this should be so demanding because very vulnerable people have to rely on our skills.

I consider myself very fortunate to be able to work at Peter Edwards Law. Peter himself is also a senior lecturer and provides specialist training to all of us including providing tribunal panel accredited courses.

The material provided at the panel courses outlines everything that you must learn to be able to pass the accreditation and more importantly represent your client in the best possible way.

I do most of my revision from the Code of Practice, Richard Jones Mental Health Act Manual and the Mental Health Lawyers Association Tribunal Panel Course book.

As the Panel exam is an oral one, I have been taking every opportunity to have mock interviews with any of our experienced staff willing to listen to me! I am also very lucky to have colleagues who have recently become accredited.

When accredited I will then be able to represent our clients at Mental Health Tribunals, I am looking forward to progressing in my career and improving my ability to do my best to help our clients.


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