The Rising Need to Provide Legal Representation for the Mentally Ill in Victoria

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Victoria’s Legal Aid has reported that there is a low legal representation of mental health patients. One of their lead legal representatives has handled several cases in different country towns. The example shows that there is a significant need to increase legal representatives for mentally ill patients. According to the statistics provided by Legal Aid, The last two quarters of 2017 had a total of 169 mental hearings. The sad part is that their legal representatives couldn’t handle all the cases. As a result, patients went to the trial without legal representation. Usually, when they appear in front of a tribunal without legal counsel, it’s highly unlikely that the ruling will go their way.

Hamish Mc Lachlan, the manager of Legal Aid, said that patients unrepresented in the tribunal are always at a disadvantage. Experience has taught the institution that patients get a better outcome when there is representation. Patients are mostly disadvantaged when it comes to cases involving electro-convulsive treatment (ECT). Victoria’s rate of legal representation pales in comparison to the likes of New South Wales. 78 percent of patients in North South Wales are legally represented during the tribunals while only 17 percent have lawyers present in Victoria.

The need to increase legal representation in Victoria came after a study into the way Victoria’s mental health tribunal made decisions came to light. The investigation revealed that the decisions made by the tribunal had many inconsistencies. According to Dr. Maylea, people reserve the rights to have their input considered when making such decisions. The published document created a chance for changes to be made. Much time was lost during traveling instead of making legal representation. There is only so much a few lawyers can do. The doctor added that it was time for policy and practice changes. While at it, policy formulated should seek to have the patients’ input considered while making decisions.

A test case presented to Victoria Supreme Court sought to determine when a patient should get subjected to ECT without their consent. However, the Mental Health Minister said that the judgment to make decisions relating to mental treatment lied solely with the mental health tribunal. In response to the findings of the study, the health tribunal, through its president, Matthew Carroll welcomed scrutiny but disagreed with the findings. Mr. Carroll said that the study findings were a direct misinterpretation of the law. On the other hand, the Health Act gave the tribunal power to decide whether an individual could make the decision.

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