Judge Barney McElholm
Derry's District Judge has described the protocol where people who threaten to self-harm are brought to A&E as “a lunatic scheme.”
Judge Barney McElholm was speaking in the case of a 38-years-old woman who was brought to court for breaching her bail on 28 December.
A police officer told the court that police were called by the woman who was threatening to self-harm.
When they arrived they found she had cuts on her arms and razor blades secreted on her person.
They also found a half empty bottle of vodka in the kitchen in breach of her bail conditions that she was not to possess any intoxicating liquor.
The officer said the woman had an “horrendous history of bail breaches” and said if she consumed alcohol she self- harmed and if she was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital she re-offended.
Defence counsel, Sinead Rogan, asked the officer had the woman been breathalysed to which the officer replied she did not know.
The barrister said as far as she knew a test had been carried out and the woman had blown zero.
She said the court was “well versed” in the issues surrounding the woman who was on bail while appealing against an eight month jail sentence.
Ms Rogan being in prison would “not do her any good.” Judge McElholm asked what else could be done as regards the woman, adding “various people have gone to a lot of trouble” yet she refused to go to a clinic in England for treatment.
The judge said such clinics did not exist here so the courts were left with very little option.After Ms Rogan pointed out the woman had called the police herself, Judge McElholm said police were obliged to take someone threatening self-harm to A&E which was “full of ordinary citizens” and when the defendant was taken there “she starts to misbehave.”
He added what was happening was that people with mental health issues exacerbated by drink or drugs were being taken somewhere where they commit further offences.The judge said he was not trying to punish the woman but he wanted to put her somewhere where “she can settle down.”
He said if there was a clinic here he could send her to he would but such places did not exist here.He added that if the woman was taken to A&E she would commit further offences and “the merry-go-round begins again.”
Judge McElholm said it was time people demanded that their “so-called politicians” do something about this situation instead of expecting the justice system to deal with it.
He added he had the “constant dilemma” what to do about the defendant. He said: "She won't stop drinking, she won't stop phoning the police and she is found with razor blades on her person." The judge said he thought it was “self evident” that there had to be a place where people can be sent to “settle down” away from drink or drugs.
Refusing bail, Judge McElholm said: “I am remanding her in custody because I can't do anything else.”
The woman will appear again in court again today (Thursday).
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