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Law Society mental health accreditation scheme

There are various benefits of membership of the scheme (which used to be known as the ‘MHRT panel’). Under the current Legal Aid contract, a supervisor must be a panel member, and advocacy at Tribunals must be carried out by panel members.

Sources of information

The relevant Law Society web page is set out at the bottom of this page.

In addition to the web pages themselves, the main documents, which describe the process in detail, are:

  • ‘Law Society Individual Accreditation Schemes: Application Criteria and Guidance Notes’ (12 December 2018)
  • ‘Mental Health Accreditation: Application and re-accreditation application forms guidance notes and policies’ (dated 4/3/21)
  • Mental Health Accreditation Scheme application form (September 2020)

Expected Standards of Competence

The standards are as follows:

Applicants to the Mental Health Accreditation Scheme are expected to have undertaken a substantial amount of mental health casework for a period at least six months within the 12 months preceding the application to the Scheme and must demonstrate the following competencies:

  • Knowledge of the law and procedure which is essential to representing clients before the First-tier Tribunal
  • Ability to prepare and present cases effectively for clients in proceedings before the First-tier Tribunal
  • Sufficient knowledge of those areas of law, such as mental capacity, community care and human rights, which are relevant to advising and representing clients in proceedings before the First-tier Tribunal
  • Sensitivity to and awareness of the particular difficulties clients may face because of mental disorder and by virtue of being subject to Mental Health Act powers
  • Commitment to representing clients with mental disorder
  • Adherence to the ongoing requirements of Law Society Accreditation Membership and to the Mental Health Accreditation Code of Practice.

Dealing with cases personally

Historically an applicant to the MHRT panel had to give an undertaking about conducting cases personally. In December 2011, the wording of this undertaking was converted into a Code of Practice to which panel members agree to adhere. The Code of Practice states:

When representing a party in proceedings covered by the Mental Health Act 1983:

1. subject to paragraph 2, to not normally delegate the preparation, supervision, conduct or presentation of the case, but to deal with it personally
2. in each case to consider whether it is in the best interests of the client to instruct another advocate in relation to the preparation of the case
3. in addition to the provisions of the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct, where it is in the best interests of my client, or becomes necessary, to instruct another advocate:
3.1 To consider and advise the client on whom should be instructed in their best interests.
3.2 To ensure that, save in exceptional circumstances, any advocate that is instructed will either be
3.2.1 another Mental Health Accreditation Scheme member, or
3.2.2 a member of the Bar on my practice’s approved counsel list who has appropriate experience of tribunal cases.
3.3 And to obtain an undertaking from that advocate to:
3.3.1 attend and conduct the matter personally unless an unavoidable professional engagement arises
3.3.2 take all reasonable steps to ensure that so far as reasonably practicable a conflicting professional engagement does not arise
4. To abide by the advice and best practice issued by the Law Society in its Practice Note of 19 May 2011, which can be found on our website.

Paragraph 4 above did not appear in the original undertaking and refers to the document discussed above.

Application requirements

The following are the main requirements:

  1. Attendance at an approved training course such as this one.
  2. “Applicants to the Mental Health Accreditation scheme are expected to have undertaken a substantial amount of mental health casework for a period at least six months within the 12 months preceding the application to the scheme.” (Guidance, page 3)
  3. Section 3 of the mental health guidance states: “The Law Society requires all initial Mental Health Accreditation applicants to provide full PD records for the last complete PD years preceding submission of the application. In addition to the two-day mandatory course, applicants should also have gained at least six PD hours in the last complete PD year in the subject area of mental health law. … All six of the required PD hours must consist of structured activities/courses… Activities such as observations, discussions, team meetings and reading journals will not be accepted as structured activities/courses for the purposes of accreditation. Any in-house training must consist of an organised program of learning with clearly defined learning objectives and outcomes to be considered structured and you may be asked to provide copies of the related learning materials. … If you have not completed the required hours for any reason, you must specify a reason.” (Guidance, section 3) The CPD requirement does not include this panel course.
  4. You must have represented at or observed four hearings in the 12 months prior to your application (including one s2 hearing, one s3 or 37, one restricted, and one other hearing of any type). In practice, it is unlikely that you have represented anyone at a Mental Health Tribunal in the relevant period, so you will need to arrange observations. There is no need to provide case reports.
  5. Disclosure and Barring Service certificate. There is a separate fee for this. The guidance states: “As accredited members will be working with vulnerable clients, whether children or adults, an enhanced check is required. The EDBS check looks at spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands, final warnings and any additional information held by local police that is reasonably considered relevant to the role in question.” The certificate must be no more than three months old when the panel application is received by the Law Society. The Law Society want to receive the DBS certificate no later than 21 days after receiving your panel application form. The check can take about six weeks so you should apply for the DBS check before making the Law Society application.
  6. Application form, which must be submitted within six months of attendance at the panel course.
  7. Payment of fee. The “application fee” is £249 plus VAT, but if you are successful at interview you must pay a further “membership fee” of £316 plus VAT, making a total of £565 plus VAT (£678).
  8. Interview (see below).

During panel membership, members are required to complete at least 6 CPD hours of mental health related courses per annum. The mental health guidance document defines Professional Development (PD) as “A structured approach to learning and development to help ensure continued competence in law, practice and procedure. Once accredited all members of the scheme will be required to ensure that they complete at least six PD hours of mental health law related courses.”

If you have difficulty meeting any of the scheme’s requirements you can contact the administration office (accreditation@lawsociety.org.uk or 020 7320 5797) to discuss your circumstances. For instance, in relation to the CPD requirement, “applications which fall outside of this requirement will be considered on a case-by-case basis” (email from Jane Sweetman, 27 February 2017).

The interview

The interview is normally held at the Law Society building on Chancery Lane in London, but during the coronavirus pandemic is now held via Microsoft Teams.

When interviews were face-to-face, a 5-6 page case study is the basis of some questions and is normally is given to the candidate an hour before the interview start time. During the coronavirus pandemic the case study are read out by one of the assessors prior to questions. The guidance describes it as follows:

The interview will commence with a case study. The case study will concern a person detained under the Mental Health Act who has applied to the First-tier Tribunal. The case study will be read out by one of the assessors. You will be able to make notes during the reading of the case study. The task, on the basis of the information provided in the case study, is to prepare to represent that person at a tribunal hearing. Applicants will have to consider the facts of the case study, how best to prepare and present the client’s case and how to deal with the issues of law, procedure and evidence which arise in the case study. These matters will be tested by questions asked by the assessors in the interview.

The interview itself:

  1. Case study assessment (35 minutes, 12 questions, 50 marks, pass mark 32). This relates to the case study provided at the start, and comprises questions on law, procedure, evidence, case preparation and presentation.
  2. Practice and professional conduct assessment (20 minutes, 10 questions, 30 marks, pass mark 18). During this state you will need to apply the rules and law to hypothetical scenarios.
  3. Multiple choice questionnaire (10 minutes, 20 questions, 20 marks, pass mark 14). This used to be given to the candidate 15 minutes before the interview start time, then was done online before the interview day – and during the pandemic is again part of the interview. Reference materials should not be used.

Reference material may be used for the case study assessment, but not for the practice and professional conduct assessment or the MCQ.

Each of the three elements (i.e. the two-part interview and the MCQ) must be passed.

In the past, at interview, the two interviewers could ask what they liked, but now it is more regimented. There is a fixed list of questions – although the questions will change over time.

The is some confusion about the possible outcomes, so you may wish to clarify this with the Law Society yourself. It used to be that the possible outcomes of the application process were pass (accredited “unconditionally”), fail, or a deferral of up to 6 months (accredited “conditionally”), and the assessors could pass a candidate who would have narrowly failed. A deferral might be granted, for instance, if the candidate only failed one element and there is something, such as course attendance, which could be done to improve performance at a further interview. However, at least one assessor now now states that neither deferrals nor discretionary passes exist.

You will need to know not only about legal matters (e.g. discharge criteria, tribunal powers) but also about practical matters (e.g. what is needed to prepare a case, what questions and submissions should be put, what case law is relevant).

The decision will be sent to you within two weeks of the interview. The Law Society website states: “The application process takes around six to eight weeks. It can take longer if we receive high volumes of applications or if you do not give us all the information we need.”

Other fees listed on the Law Society website are:

  • Late application £103 plus VAT (£123.60).
  • Certificate re-issue £10 plus VAT (£12).
  • Appeal against decision to refuse accreditation £258 plus VAT (£309.60).

See also

  • JR of Law Society. GT Stewart Solicitors and Advocates, 'GT Stewart file claim for judicial review in the High Court challenging decision of the Law Society' (6/4/18) — This announcement concludes: "The Law Society has not published detailed guidance on what areas are accepted to be mental health law-‘related’. However, in its published ‘expected standards of competence’, applicants are expected to have sufficient knowledge of areas of law, such as mental capacity, community care and human rights, which are relevant to advising and representing clients in proceedings before the First-tier Tribunal. Rebecca maintains that the courses which she undertook came squarely within the competencies required and that the Law Society’s decision to refuse her application for reaccreditation to the Mental Health Accreditation Scheme is unlawful."

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