Queensland Law Society

Criminal treatment of mental health issues

Date 07 Mar 2012
Contact Natalie Graeff, Manager Corporate Communication
Phone (07) 3842 5868
Mobile 0488 433 884
Fax 07 3221 9329
Email n.graeff@qls.com.au

Queensland Law Society is calling for the major political parties to commit to better treatment of people in the criminal justice system who suffer from mental health issues.

In a State election issues paper, the Society highlighted the need for programs to identify mental health issues early in a case so that the underlying causes of a person’s offending behaviour can be addressed.

It also called for assistance for the accused and their family through court processes and in accessing mental health services.

The ALP and LNP recently responded to this call with different takes on the issue.

Attorney-General Paul Lucas stated the ALP was committed to introducing legislation for magistrates to consider taking into account of their assessment of a defendant, orders of the Mental Health Court - an expert tribunal constituted by a Supreme Court judge assisted by two psychiatrists.

Shadow Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said the LNP was receptive to the need for greater assistance for the accused and their family through the court processes.

Queensland Law Society president Dr John de Groot said firm commitments from each party were needed now to ensure those with mental health issues and impaired decision-making capacity could benefit from programs to help them understand their behaviour and reduce the risk of reoffending.

“At the moment, we have the Special Circumstances Court Diversion Program that is a voluntary program for people charged with summary offences, but how can people volunteer if they don’t know they have an issue?” Dr de Groot said.

“Mental health issues can be difficult to detect and by the time it gets to the point of appearing before court, the need to seek the underlying behavioural cause for offending is all too often not dealt with.

“What we’re asking for are diversion programs that identify these issues much earlier so the person involved can understand and make the connection between their action and its unintended consequences.”

Queensland Law Society’s State election issues paper lists 11 priority legal profession and social issues that the ALP and LNP recently responded to.

The issues and their responses were recently published in the March edition of the Society’s monthly magazine, Proctor.