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Mind the Act, Victoria Legal Aid
It's been ages since our last newsletter. When we started, this newsletter of Victoria Legal Aid's Mental Health and Disability Law program was originally focused on the new (as it was then) Mental Health Act 2014. That Act has just turned two years old.
For the observant, there's been a minor amendment to the title of our newsletter from Mind the Act, to Mind the Acts. It's not a particularly earth-shattering development but reflects that we're taking a broader look at the work of our program.

In addition to the Mental Health Act, we will be talking about a range of laws that affect the people we work with, including the Guardianship and Administration Act, the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Fitness to be Tried) Act, and the Disability Act

Our updated newsletter reflects our long-term goals of ensuring that consumers' rights under such mental health and disability laws are fully complied with, and maximising human rights. 

What’s next

In coming editions we're going to be launching our guide to advocacy under the Mental Health Act.

There will also be information about the impact of the expansion of our specialist legal services for people with a mental health issue and/or cognitive disability, and about ongoing issues with access to legal assistance in these areas. We'll also be putting out summaries of interesting cases, such as the story of our client William, and talking about our ongoing areas of focus. 

Shining a light behind closed doors – Eleanore Fritze on her research  

In 2015 I travelled overseas to explore how legal services can best protect the human rights and dignity of people with disabilities who have been detained in closed environments for compulsory treatment. I undertook this research as part of a Churchill Fellowship, sponsored by the Jack Brockhoff Foundation.
My first stop was New York. The Bronx Psychiatric Center to be precise: a huge, dated, office-looking building for 360 patients. Rather than a specialist tribunal, hearings to determine whether patients should be released are conducted by the New York Supreme Court, either in a room at the hospital (set up as much as possible like a court) or in the formal court building itself.

The hearings are open to the public and are recorded. A lawyer from the Attorney-General’s office represents the state hospitals and prosecutes the cases. Even where a negotiated settlement is reached between the parties on the ‘steps’ of court, the State calls the psychiatrist to the stand to give evidence under oath/affirmation. ‘Defence’ counsel may – or may not – call their client to give evidence as well. Just like on TV, these adversarial hearings are full of motions and objections by counsel on both sides, sometimes quite heated, many of which relate to the application of the rules of evidence and in particular the exclusion of hearsay and historical evidence.

Read more of Eleanore's blog.

'Shining a light behind closed doors' will be launched on Thursday 11 August. Register to attend this free event.

Sixteen years of compulsory treatment – William's case

For 16 years our client William (not his real name) was subject to successive community treatment orders, the most recent order having been made by the Mental Health Tribunal on 7 August 2015.

William sought assistance from Victoria Legal Aid with a review of that decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (VCAT).

In revoking the order after 16 years, VCAT referred to key information about William, including his sustained engagement with mental health services, his strong connections to friends and family, and to his commitment to ongoing study. 

Among other things, this rigorous decision looked carefully at the standard of evidence required in cases that impact on a person’s liberty. It also noted that a decision maker should not be satisfied on the basis of ‘uncertain proofs or evidence where findings are reached by drawing indirect inferences.’

Read the case note.

News and events

'Australian story' explainer: the mental impairment defence in homicide cases

Victoria Legal Aid Chief Counsel and mental impairment crime expert Tim Marsh says the mental impairment defence is 'not a free ride'. 

Read the Explainer: The mental impairment defence in homicide cases which he provided as background for a recent edition of Australian Story on ABC TV.

Bruce Woodcock Memorial Lecture

'People don’t need more referrals to mental health services, they need referrals to life and community.' With that statement, US expert Dr Mark Salzer, this year’s guest speaker at the 18th Annual championed the urgent issue of mental health and community inclusion. Read what he had to say.

Mental health experience key to teaching at new college in Bendigo

Bendigo's newly-opened Mind Recovery College is a place of learning where teachers have personal experience with a mental health issue. Read the ABC story.

Disability support services provided under the National Disability Agreement 2014–15

In 2014–15, around 333,800 people used disability support services under the National Disability Agreement  including around 1,900 who transitioned to the National Disability Insurance Scheme during the year. Read the summary.
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