A Wide Bay barrister says the Queensland Government’s new mental health legislation will protect the community’s most vulnerable.
State Parliament passed the new laws last week, which allow magistrates to dismiss minor charges when the accused is deemed to be of unsound mind.
The laws also provide a regulatory framework to help patients who are too unwell to be able to make decisions about their own treatment and care.
Barrister Bill McMillan said if the legislation was included in the Mental Health Act sooner, it could have prevented the closure of the Barrett Centre in early 2014.
“To the greatest extent practicable, a minor receiving treatment and care must have the minor’s best interest recognised and promoted and in particular they must receive treatment and care separated from adults if practicable,” he said.
“If that was in the legislation prior to the decision to close they may have decided on another decision.”
Mr McMillan said when enforced, the new laws would lift pressure on the courts.
“I know of one matter that has taken almost 12 months before the Mental Health Court to have to go through various stages and I believe that’s almost approaching a scandal,” he said.
“The magistrate, however, with this innovation, may be able to deal with … cases that won’t need to go to the Mental Health Court.”
The Queensland Mental Health Commission welcomed the passing of the new legislation.
Commissioner Dr Lesley van Schoubroeck congratulated the Government and Opposition on progressing the legislation and for including a range of mechanisms that “respected the rights of consumers and their families”.
“The challenge remains to ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to empower people with lived experience to exercise the rights this new legislation will provide,” she said.
“Development of legislation that balances the rights of people with mental illness while providing for their involuntary treatment is necessarily complex.
“Consultation and drafting of this new legislation has taken over two years but the time spent ensuring people with mental illness are at all times provided with least restrictive and recovery-oriented treatment and care, has resulted in a better outcome.”
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 22 February 2016.