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Better provision for mentally impaired in new law

Better provision for mentally impaired in new law

The treatment and care of mentally impaired people in the criminal justice system will be significantly improved by legislation passed through Parliament, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

"The Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act modernises laws that have not been significantly reformed since the 1950s," Mr Goff said.

"It increases the options available to the courts, and introduces significant safeguards. As a consequence, people with an intellectual disability who appear before the courts will be dealt with in a more appropriate way than is possible under existing legislation.

"Currently such people are excluded from the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 unless they are also mentally disordered, which limits the courts' options for dealing with them.

"This Act, and its companion measure, the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care) Act, introduces new options for people who are either found unfit to stand trial, not guilty by reason of insanity, or are convicted of an offence but their mental condition means they would be better detained in a psychiatric hospital or care facility than in a prison.

"A person can no longer be found unfit to stand trial unless the court is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of their physical responsibility for the offence with which they are charged.

"This addresses the risk that a person can be found unfit to stand trial and placed into secure care even though they did not commit the alleged offence.

"A trial will not always be required in order to find a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. A judge can accept such a verdict if the prosecution and defence agree, and the judge is satisfied, on the basis of expert evidence, of the defendant’s insanity at the time the offence occurred.

"This is a vast improvement on the status quo because it will prevent the stress caused to defendants and victims by having to go through a trial when the appropriate ultimate verdict is not in question.

"Courts will now be able to order a convicted offender to receive treatment in a hospital or secure facility while serving a prison sentence. This will ensure those in need of treatment receive it in a timely fashion. When the need for treatment ceases, the offender will be transferred back to prison.

"While generally a person found unfit to stand trial or insane will be remanded to a hospital or secure facility while it is determined how they should be dealt with, in situations where there is no question of risk to public safety, the judge now has the ability to consider bail.

"The current ad hoc nature for accessing assessment reports will change so that providers who have offenders transferred into their care are able to access reports made by facilities to which the offender was first sent. This removes the risk of assessments being made with incomplete information.

"This Act strikes an appropriate balance between protecting the rights of the mentally impaired and intellectually disabled, and ensuring that safe and appropriate care options are available for such offenders," Mr Goff said.

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