Therapeutic justice – helping people to live

Therapeutic justice – helping people to live

Simon was not travelling well; he had suffered with depression and anxiety for more than a decade. Following the recent breakdown of his 16-year relationship, his mental health began to deteriorate. This downfall was exacerbated by being unable to afford psychiatric support. He was attempting to manage his mental health with the assistance of his GP but had recently stopped taking his medication.

Simon knew he was not coping and needed help. As with many clients confined to Centrelink assistance his only option was to attend at the emergency department. The emergency department was busy and whilst waiting in a cubical he became convinced that hospital staff were ignoring him. His anxiety reach such a point that he grabbed a butter knife and approached a police officer repeatedly asking that they shoot him. The situation escalated with the police resorting to deterrent spray and knocking the knife from Simon’s hand with a baton.

As the resources of the emergency department were stretched, Simon was discharged without a mental health assessment. The Critical Assessment Team followed up the next day. However, Simon was not suicidal at the time of the visit and no further intervention was planned.

The incident at the hospital saw Simon charged with ‘assault police’ and ‘threat to assault police’. Simon attended an appointment with a PCLC lawyer, stating how fearful he was of going to jail. Furthermore, he had not yet been able to secure the medical support he needed to address his mental health issues.

Following lengthy negotiations with our lawyer, the police would only agree to withdraw the ‘attempt to assault police’ if Simon agreed to plead guilty to ‘assault police’.

It was explained to Simon that on the facts, it was arguable that the police did not have enough evidence to support a finding of guilt to assault police. Simon felt he was too unwell to contest the charges.

After seeking a sentencing indication from the Magistrate, Simon was advised that the best way to proceed would be to plead guilty and with submissions in mitigation being presented to the court. Simon agreed, and was represented by our lawyer.

The submissions highlighted the attempts that Simon had made to obtain the assistance he desperately needed and the barriers he continually faced. The Magistrate was persuaded by the arguments and ordered Simon be placed on the Court Integrated Services Program. This saw Simon receiving a mental health assessment and having a treatment plan developed, including the allocation of a case co-ordinator who would facilitate on-going mental health support for him.

Simon will be placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond without conviction after he successfully completes his treatment plan.

The approach taken in relation to Simon’s legal matters ultimately saw him receiving the intervention for his deteriorating mental health that he urgently required.   This means that Simon is less likely to reoffend
and gives him the best chance to get well and go on with his life. It is doubtful that Simon would have obtained this result if he had not had the support and representation of one of our lawyers.

Many of the clients who access the legal assistance sector have numerous legal and social issues impacting upon their lives. To address this PCLC runs a holistic practice. This means that along with ensuring we are accessible to the clients who need us the most, we also endeavour to assist clients with as many of their legal issues as possible. Frequently lawyers and advocates co-ordinate across practice areas to provide a multi-faceted service to those clients who need it. What a difference two or three lawyers can make.