Solicitor/Tribunal Judge, Accredited Mental Health Panel Member
Sharon Coomber ran her own firm between 1988 and 2002, specialising in litigation (both civil and criminal) and increasingly becoming more involved in mental health law. In March 2002 when her husband Kim Kennedy became the senior partner at John Fowlers, Sharon transferred her legal aid franchise to the firm, and John Fowlers then expanded to employ a full time solicitor to work with Sharon in mental health law.
“The firm’s mental health department has continued to expand over the years, as has it’s client base. In 2004 I was appointed a part-time legal member or Judge of the Mental Health Review Tribunal, and I continue to chair tribunal hearings. Between 2008 and 2012 I was a Peer Reviewer in the area of mental health for the Legal Services Commission. This entailed auditing the files of other firms holding a mental health franchise. I am also an assessor for the Law Society’s mental health accreditation scheme.
I enjoy all my work in the mental health field as it is so diverse and involves adults and adolescents from all walks of life, and with diverse cultural backgrounds. The clients often have more than one mental disorder e.g. a mental illness and/or a learning disability, and/or possibly an acquired brain injury. The clients may be transferred to a psychiatric hospital from prison; they may be detained in a specialist setting e.g. a forensic unit, or a brain injury unit, rather than on a general psychiatric ward or on an adolescent unit. Clients may be receiving psychiatric treatment in the community too, either on a voluntary basis or subject to a Community Treatment Order, or subject to a Guardianship Order.
The variety of the work makes the job interesting, especially the medico-legal issues, and the fact that it is largely hospital based (and requires me to go to the hospital where the client is, rather than spend the day in the office) adds up to ensure that there is never a dull day! It is also very rewarding when our work/advocacy leads to a positive outcome for the client, and improves the quality of life for the service user too.
Mental health law has always been a rapidly developing, and specialist area of law. Today, there is an increasing amount of case law being reported. The Mental Health Tribunal has in recent times become part of the Health, Education and Social Care Chamber and the rules governing the operation of the Mental Health Tribunal have changed.
During my time in the profession, the way we communicate with the tribunal has also changed, and is almost exclusively by secure email. This means that we receive and send out information far more speedily, and this tighter time frame has in turn been incorporated into the rules which govern the procedure used in tribunal proceedings. A significant portion of the work is legally aided and the rules on granting this have tightened.The new Care Act 2014 comes into force in April 2015 and this will affect the way local authorities deliver services, care and support to people.
John Fowlers Solicitors is still small enough to have a very personal and caring ethos both towards it’s clients and members of staff. We strive to do the very best we can for everybody, and frequently go above and beyond that which can be reasonably expected of us.
ln the mental health department we all have an excellent sense of humour which helps us deal with the very real and challenging day to day issues that concern our clients. We also work very much as a team, sharing our knowledge and experience so as to strive for the best outcome for the case in hand.
When I’m not at work, I love travelling with family and friends, being at the gym (I love swimming and pilates too). I’m also a keen patchwork and quilter, I enjoy reading and also going to the cinema and theatre.”