The legal oversight of community treatment orders: a qualitative analysis of tribunal decision-making

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Community treatment orders (CTOs) have been in place in various jurisdictions for over three decades, and yet are still a controversial aspect of mental health provision. One of the ethical concerns CTOs may engender is how difficult it can be to secure discharge from them, which in some jurisdictions can result in service users being subject to compulsion in the community indefinitely. Given the questions that can therefore be raised about the discharge process, it is important to understand the role of the mental health tribunal as a key safeguard in the management of CTOs. However, whilst a substantial body of literature exists on CTOs and on various aspects of tribunal practice in inpatient settings respectively, relatively little has been written about the role of the tribunal in the oversight of CTO discharge decisions. This article presents the results of an eight month ethnographic investigation into CTO use in England, focusing on the factors which contribute to tribunal decisions. A total of 62 participants were involved in the study, including 18 service users on CTOs, 36 mental health practitioners and 8 tribunal chairs. A combination of interviews, observations and documentary analysis are drawn upon to illustrate tribunal decision-making practice on CTOs. The key themes reported on are: the mediating influence of participant presentation and interaction in tribunals; tribunal framing and interpretation of insight and risk; and the importance of timing to tribunals, both in terms of the perceived stability of a service user’s social circumstances, and the length of the CTO. The findings highlight the cumulative and interrelated effect of such factors on tribunal decision-making, and point to how tribunal judgements are heavily weighted towards upholding CTOs, with the implications that holds for individual rights.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-103
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Early online date11 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2018 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Community treatment order
  • Decision-making
  • Qualitative research
  • Tribunal

Cite this