The Pro Bono Justice Project – Advocacy before the Mental Health Tribunal
The Pro Bono Justice Project (“Project”) aims to address the alarmingly low level of legal representation for people subject to enforced psychiatric treatment in their hearings before the Mental Health Tribunal.
Specifically, the Project engages pro bono lawyers in private practice, the public service, Victorian Bar and other organisations who are trained, supervised and supported by the Centre to represent involuntary patients in the Melbourne metropolitan region who are subject to Community Treatment Orders (“CTOs”).
In any given year no more than 10% of Tribunal hearings involve legal representation on the part of the person whose rights are affected.
Victoria Legal Aid provides a duty lawyer advice and representation service to inpatients on Involuntary Treatment Orders (“ITOs”) before the Tribunal, while the Centre focuses on CTO hearings. CTO representation by its nature is more resource intensive than inpatient hearings. While CTO hearings comprise around 70% of hearings, they account for less than 30% of the total hearings with representation. Given its limited resources, however, the Centre itself is unable to fully meet this need.
The availability of independent advice and advocacy for consumers is critical to a fair and participatory democracy and Victoria’s recent Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities further enshrines the right to a fair trial, including the right to legal representation. In a jurisdiction where many, if not most, clients suffer additional financial and social disadvantage, the increased provision of free or pro bono legal advocacy through the Project is crucial.
Encouraging pro bono lawyers to commit their energy and resources to the Project not only increases the number of people represented, but also generates a broader awareness of mental health law issues in the legal community.
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