Recommendations relating to Legal and Justice Services

Legal and justice services exist to provide support to people who are interacting with police, legal practitioners or the courts. People living with complex mental health issues should not feel that those services are poorly equipped to adapt to their diverse needs, or that justice has been denied them because of systemic stigma and discrimination. Disturbingly, however, for those participants who responded to the section of the survey specific to this domain, that is often the case. 

Difficulty accessing services was a common issue reported by participants. The belief that their issues were either trivialised or dismissed also emerged as a recurring theme. To compound matters, the anticipation of stigma and discrimination often based on prior experiences of unfair treatment within the justice system – deterred people living with complex mental health issues from seeking legal redress. 

 

 "I was taken to hospital by force due to a police officer not understanding mental health. I was been taken to ED and they tried to put me in a paddy wagon."  

– Our Turn to Speak participant, Queensland

 

The qualitative findings of the survey revealed that a lack of flexibility, empathy and support, at all levels within the justice system and across a range of legal disciplines, militated against the very principles of justice – namely liberty, autonomy, equality, and fairness. Several participants gave deeply troubling accounts of their interactions with police and the courts system, and considered that their mental health issues had been used against them in some way and had led to unjust outcomes.  

 

"Experience with family court, it definitely gets used against you. Felt like the magistrate couldn't be bothered, he cut me off after I'd get two words in. It's like they put dishonesty and mental illness in the same basket.     

– Our Turn to Speak participant, Victoria

 

As with the majority of the life domains under examination, ignorance or inaccurate assumptions lie at the heart of these unacceptable experiences. Improved education and training are key factors in addressing stigma and discrimination within the justice system. Discriminatory beliefs and practices in this domain can have devastating impacts on people living with complex mental health issues, as our survey participants and all too often, the media, report.

 

Recommendations for action 

  1. Promote zero tolerance to violence and harassment by law enforcement officials and ensure all uniformed police officers have received trauma-informed and mental health training that includes a focus on appropriate responses to people affected by complex mental health issues.
  2. Increase the availability of programs that support dual attendance by police and a trained mental health professional or peer worker at police callouts responding to distress involving people affected by complex mental health issues.
  3. Increase availability of peer support programs for people affected by complex mental health issues to support people accessing the courts in both state and federal jurisdictions, and increase provision of pro bono legal support including for those who wish to self-represent.