IT WAS certainly a win but the man dubbed ''J'' had little time to enjoy it. With only three months to live he gained his release from a psychiatric hospital after being held there against his will, partly because his wife and doctors believed he was spending his life insurance payout too freely.
He was spending his $700,000 payment - received after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer - on charities, airfares and gifts to friends and women, his wife and friends reported.
Staff at Prince of Wales Hospital denied J full access to the lawyers he hired to fight his detention. The NSW Supreme Court found the Mental Health Tribunal had delivered a ''manifestly inadequate'' judgment on J's attempt to appeal against his treatment.
David Begg, of David Begg and Associates, which acted for the man, said the situation should not have occurred. "It's clear that at various times he wanted to see a lawyer … There shouldn't be any barriers in place to that.''
The man was detained in part on reports by his third wife of his spending.
His doctor, a prominent Sydney psychiatrist and former head of the Black Dog Institute, Gordon Parker, believed his spending to be part of a manic episode. He told the Herald the case was tragic but illustrated how the system should work.
"The hospital staff should present their best case and the legal system is there to provide an independent review. So the process was fine if not excellent.''
When J was admitted to the psychiatric hospital he had only months to live. Yet it was two weeks before the tribunal assessed his case and decided he should be held for all of September last year. It dismissed his appeal on the grounds that he required more hospital treatment. In the Supreme Court Justice Richard White found that decision "manifestly inadequate". The tribunal had also decided it would not deal with a hospital social worker's request for a guardianship order over the man's finances, a decision the judge said was "in error".
The court heard that when the social worker was able to access J's bank statements, she decided to revoke the application. Justice White ordered J be discharged.
Sascha Callaghan, a doctoral student at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at the University of Sydney, said the case highlighted the importance of not delaying mental health hearings.
"If you have a history of mental illness these sorts of things can happen," she said. "That's the problem when you have a lot of power concentrated in the medical profession and not a lot of checks and balances."
The Herald understands J died in December. Professor Parker said J continued to have psychiatric treatment after his release.
J's barrister, John Bartos, said: "I think he was slightly manic or agitated but if I had that prognosis, I had two months left to live and had been locked up in a mental health facility … I would be pretty agitated. Whilst he was slightly manic he seemed to be fairly rational. He had just received a large amount of money and while he had spent a little bit of it he hadn't spent much.''
He said the hospital had refused a request for J to be seen by another doctor before the court case and, when the case was heard by the tribunal, his solicitor was given little time to review the evidence before a hearing.
The Greens' health spokesman, John Kaye, said the case raised the question of how many patients were "left languishing" in hospital. "My overriding concern is that the system failed until it reached the Supreme Court," he said. "That's a complex and expensive solution.''
The director of mental health for the south-eastern Sydney local health district, Murray Wright, said the hospital had followed due process and the court had concluded the hospital had acted in what it thought was the best interest of the patient.