26 September 2023

Courts adopt new verdict to help victims

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In an Australian first, the Department of Communities and Justice has introduced reforms that change the ‘special verdict’ in Court for the defence of mental illness.

Attorney General Mark Speakman (pictured) and Minister for Mental Health, Bronnie Taylor said the Mental Health and Cognitive Impairment Forensic Provisions Bill 2020 would change the language of the verdict ‘not guilty by reason of mental illness’.

“For survivors and victims’, criminal justice proceedings can often be a painful and potentially traumatising experience,” Mr Speakman said.

“This can be exacerbated by hearing that a mentally ill defendant is ‘not guilty’ of an offence, even though the court found the defendant committed the act,” he said.

“We have listened to the concerns of victims and families and are delivering on our commitment to introduce a new verdict that better recognises the conduct of the defendant in serious matters.”

Mr Speakman said NSW is the first State or Territory in the country to empower its courts to hand down a finding of ‘act proven but not criminally responsible’.

He said that in addition to the new special verdict, a package of reforms also contained in the Bill would reduce delays for victims and ensure community safety remained a central consideration across the forensic mental health system.

“Recent studies have shown that on average for mentally ill people who have committed less serious offences, treatment and care are more effective than criminal sanctions in reducing the risk of reoffending,” he said.

“We are improving this model by increasing magistrates’ oversight powers for these defendants to ensure that any potential risks to the community are appropriately managed by the Local Court.”

Ms Taylor said the changes recognise that defendants with serious mental health and cognitive impairment may sometimes require a different legal response to those who wilfully commit crimes.

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