19 May 2012

Western Australia introduces court for mentally ill

3:06 pm on 19 May 2012

Western Australia's government is set to introduce a specialist court to deal with offenders suffering from mental illness.

The court will include a dedicated magistrate with a team of mental health workers offering assessment of offenders, the ABC reports.

Risks of re-offending and the specific nature of an offender's illness will be considered when determining suitability for the court.

Participation in the court will be voluntary and a range of factors including the nature of offending, the particular mental illness, risks to community safety and victims will be taken into account in determining an offender's suitability for the court.

Similar proposal for NZ

Potential for such a court was canvassed in Perth six years ago by a New Zealand academic, who told an international law conference that a mental health court could be taken up by policy-makers, judges, legal practitioners and mental health professionals seeking to break the repetitive cycle of mental illness, addiction, and offending on this side of the Tasman.

In Australia, the $A5 million project will operate for two years and will cater for up to 300 people a year.

WA Mental Health Minister Helen Morton will also announce $A1.7 million for mental health experts at the Perth Children's Court for a pilot early intervention program, the ABC reports.

Such intervention is essential to identify young offenders early and identify appropriate services, Ms Morton says.

"Too often, these people are inappropriately and expensively caught up in the criminal justice system when they should be receiving effective mental health care," the minister says.

"Traditional methods of sentencing have little impact on people with mental illness and often fail to address the cause of the offending."