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Australia urged to amend laws

Australia urged to amend laws that lead to people with mental disabilities being detained indefinitely

GENEVA (23 September 2016) – Australia violated the rights of a man with an intellectual disability who was deemed unfit to stand trial but was nevertheless detained in prison for more than 10 years, thereby “converting his disability into the core cause of his detention,” UN experts have found.

Marlon James Noble, an Aboriginal man who was charged in 2001 with child sex abuse in Western Australia, brought his complaint to the Geneva-based Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Under Western Australia’s Criminal Law (Mentally Impaired Defendants) Act of 1996, once a person is found unfit to plead, he or she can be held in custody for an unlimited period. They have no possibility to go before the courts unless or until they are deemed able to understand the notion of criminal responsibility. Mr. Noble, who denied the charges, was detained until his conditional release in November 2012.

In its findings, the Committee noted that throughout Mr. Noble’s detention, “the whole judicial procedure focused on his mental capacity to stand trial without giving him any possibility to plead not guilty and test the evidence submitted against him.”

“He therefore never had the opportunity to have the criminal charges against him determined and his status as an alleged sexual offender cleared,” the Committee members found, highlighting that the charges were never proven. In addition, the authorities did not provide adequate support to enable him to stand trial and plead not guilty.

Under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Australia has ratified, States are obliged to recognise that people with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with all others in all aspects of life.

Mr. Noble was detained for more than 10 years without knowing how long he would be in custody, the CRPD noted.

“Taking into account the irreparable psychological effects that indefinite detention may have on the detained person, the Committee considers that the indefinite detention he was subjected to amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment,” members wrote.

The CRPD called on Australia to provide Mr. Noble with an effective remedy and immediately revoke the 10 conditions of his release, which members found also constituted a violation of the Convention.

Australia is also obliged to take measures to prevent similar violations, including making the necessary amendments to the Mentally Impaired Defendants Act (WA) and all equivalent or related Federal or state laws.


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