Lawyers for mental health are advocates for mentally troubled clients. Life throws curveballs, and sometimes, those curves slam smack into your mental well-being. But what if the storm brewing within your mind, a diagnosed mental illness, played a significant role in the alleged offence?
That’s where lawyers for mental health in criminal defence enter the scene, your legal guardians wielding empathy and expertise. Imagine this: Your anxiety spirals, paranoia grips you, or a manic episode clouds your judgment, leading to an unfortunate incident – one that now casts a shadow of criminal accusations.
In such scenarios, legal representation takes on a whole new dimension. You need lawyers who understand the intricate balance between mental health and the law, who can weave a defence that acknowledges your illness without diminishing your agency. Read on how lawyers for mental health can help with such cases.
Click here to read our article about Section 14 of the Mental Health and Cognitive Impairment Forensic Provisions Act NSW.
Lawyers for Mental Health: Understanding Impairments
Mental Health Impairments
Imagine a spectrum. On one end lies the ebb and flow of normal emotions – sadness after a loss, anger at an injustice. These are temporary and don’t significantly impact our judgment or behaviour. But move further along the spectrum, and you encounter mental health impairments.
These are diagnosable conditions that cause sustained disturbances in our mental processes, affecting how we think, feel, and act. Think of conditions like:
- Bipolar disorder: Characterised by extreme mood swings, from manic highs to depressive lows, significantly impacting judgment and behaviour.
- Clinical depression: Persistent sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest, profoundly affecting daily functioning and decision-making.
- Schizophrenia: A psychotic disorder characterised by hallucinations, delusions, and disorganised thinking, leading to impaired reality perception and decision-making.
Now, shift your focus to a different dimension of mental functioning – our cognitive abilities. These encompass areas like:
- Comprehension: Understanding information and concepts.
- Reasoning: Analysing information and drawing logical conclusions.
- Judgment: Making sound decisions based on available information.
- Learning: Acquiring and retaining new knowledge and skills.
- Memory: Encoding, storing, and retrieving information.
Cognitive impairments are ongoing limitations in these areas, making it difficult for individuals to function effectively in certain aspects of life. Here are some examples:
- Intellectual disability: Characterised by significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior, present from birth or early childhood.
- Dementia: A decline in cognitive abilities due to progressive brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, affecting memory, reasoning, and judgment.
- Acquired brain injury: Damage to the brain, caused by trauma, stroke, or infection, leading to impairments in various cognitive functions.
- Autism spectrum disorder: A neurodevelopmental mental health condition characterised by social communication challenges and restricted interests, also impacting cognitive abilities in some individuals.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
If you witnessed a traumatic event while you were working and it led to a psychological injury like PTSD, then it’s likely you can claim workers compensation.
Lawyers for Mental Health: Why Different Procedures?
The law recognises that individuals with these impairments might not understand their actions or grasp their wrongness. Hence, they may not be held criminally responsible. However, the court can still order treatment or detention for public safety.
For serious offences, the accused’s ability to understand charges and participate in court proceedings might be questioned. A special inquiry, often with expert medical input, determines their “fitness to be tried.” This ensures a fair trial where the accused can defend themselves effectively.
What Are the Impacts on Victims and Witnesses?
The legal process can become intricate and lengthy, sometimes taking years. If the accused is deemed unfit, you won’t be called to testify in a trial. However, for serious offences, a “special hearing” might still require your evidence.
Important notes to take:
- The court prioritises fairness for both the accused and the justice system.
- Procedures differ based on offence severity and the accused’s mental state.
- Victims and witnesses receive support and guidance throughout the process from professionals or lawyers for mental health.
The NSW Local Court and Diversionary Orders
The legal system in New South Wales recognises that individuals with mental health issues or cognitive impairments may face criminal charges. Generally, these cases may require a different approach than traditional sentencing. Instead of facing potential jail time, these orders allow you to be “diverted” out of the criminal justice system and receive the support you need. This could involve:
- Treatment programs
- Mental health assessments; or
- Supervision by a responsible person
All of these are tailored to address your specific circumstances and tackle the underlying issues that led to the offence. The process starts with the magistrate assessing your situation. They’ll consider the severity of your impairment and the alleged offence, alongside other sentencing options and your past record.
What happens then if you are deemed suitable? You can choose to return to the community under various conditions, like getting a mental health assessment. Remember, you’re not alone in navigating this process. Seeking legal representation from lawyers for mental health is highly recommended to ensure your rights are protected.
A crucial component of the diversionary order is the treatment plan. Developed by a mental health professional, this plan outlines the specific programs, services, and support you’ll receive to address your needs. Understanding and agreeing to this plan is vital for the order to take effect.
The good news? If you successfully follow the plan for 12 months, the order concludes without a conviction recorded on your criminal record. This gives you a chance to move forward on a positive path without the burden of a criminal history.
However, it’s essential to adhere to the treatment plan. Breaching its terms can lead you back to court to face the original charges, potentially resulting in fines, bonds, or even jail time. Should this happen, it’s highly recommended to seek legal advice from lawyers for mental health.
Diversionary orders offer a valuable opportunity for individuals with mental health or cognitive impairments to break the cycle of crime and prioritise their well-being. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that resources and support are available to guide you through the process and help you successfully navigate this alternative path toward a brighter future.
We Are Mental Health Advocates
JB Solicitors understand the unique challenges individuals with mental health or cognitive impairments face in the mental health system. They can:
- Advocate for diversionary orders: Explore the possibility of alternative sentencing like treatment plans and community support, prioritising rehabilitation over punishment.
- Present mitigating evidence: Effectively communicate the impact of your impairment on your actions, potentially influencing sentencing outcomes.
- Ensure fair mental health treatment: Advocate for your rights throughout the legal process, ensuring your voice is heard and your needs are met at every stage.
- Connect you with resources: Guide you towards appropriate mental health services and support services like the Mental Health Review Tribunal to address your specific challenges.
- Help with medical negligence claim matters: We can also help you claim compensation for medical negligence claims if hospitals treat you unfairly for treatment plans. Mentally impaired people deserve proper mental health care as much as injured people who need hospital care.
We believe that everyone deserves a fair chance, regardless of their circumstances in the mental health system. Their dedication to understanding and supporting individuals with mental health or cognitive impairments can make a significant difference in navigating the legal system and securing the best possible outcome.
Contact us today if you need mental health lawyers or workers compensation lawyers.