In 2008-09, the Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT) received over 13,000 matters. Almost none of the people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities whose mental health orders were reviewed in that year were represented before the MHRT. The State does not provide Legal Aid Queensland with the resources to grant legal assistance to people whose mental health orders are reviewed by the MHRT and there are virtually no other sources of legal services available to this group of people.
In this context, QAI applied for and received one-year funding to set up the Mental Health Legal Service (MHLS) from the Legal Practitioner Interest on Trust Accounts Fund (LPITAF) to provide people with legal advice and advocacy services in respect of their MHRT and other related matters.The service commenced on 14 January 2010, staffed by Rebekah Leong, full time solicitor, and Karen Thorpe, part time paralegal, under the supervision of QAI’s principal lawyer, Jim Gibney.The focus of the service was to provide advice and representation to people who have matters before the Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT). By mid April, the service had helped 40 clients and had appeared before the MHRT 12 times. The service had also appeared before QCAT in relation to a guardianship and administration application.
The MHLS provides patients with the ability to participate in the review of their own treatment and ensure that the process, in which fundamental human rights are severely restricted, is lawful. Even where the client’s desired result has not been achieved, clients have indicated that they felt the Tribunal hearing was fairer and more accessible due to being represented.
Many clients of the MHLS face significant and multifaceted barriers to communication and, without representation, their full story would not have been told.
Prior to the commencement of the MHLS, QAI responded to a tender put out by the Mental Health Review Tribunal to provide legal services in Tribunal matters where it was considered necessary by the Tribunal that a patient have legal representation. QAI’s proposal was to coordinate a panel of barristers who would provide the legal representation services.
QAI was notified in June 2010 that its tender was successful, and services commenced on 1 July 2010.
In addition to providing people most in need with legal representation, the arrangement provides the MHLS with an opportunity to regularly liaise with other legal professionals regarding their experiences before the Mental Health Review Tribunal.
In August 2010, MHLS paralegal Karen Thorpe commenced a 6 month leave of absence to undertake a role with the Mental Health Directorate.
Chantelle Baguley was appointed as the Service’s new paralegal on a 6 month contract and commenced on 30 August 2010.
QAI starts its first volunteer law student program with an intake of 2 student volunteers.
In February 2011, the MHLS undertook its first Mental Health Court matter, an appeal of the Attorney-General against the revocation of a forensic order. The MHLS instructed barrister Kim Forrester whose fees were funded by Legal Aid Queensland. The appeal involved 4 expert witnesses and cross examination over 2 days.
The MHLS also instructed Karen Williams of counsel to appear at a complex forensic order review hearing. Karen provided her services on a pro bono basis.
On 25 February 2011, QAI farewelled Chantelle Baguley who had done an excellent job in her 6 months at QAI. We then welcomed Julie Hearnden, formerly a QAI systems advocate, to be a second solicitor for the MHLS.
Due to the success of our first student volunteer intake, QAI extends its volunteer program to 6 students, one day a week for 10 weeks. It is anticipated that the volunteer program will run each university semester and over the summer break.
DLA Piper seconds Kristie Swainston, law graduate, to both QAI and the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House Inc (QPILCH) to:
- set up a legal clinic at a mental health service provider staffed by pro lawyers from DLA Piper;
- establish a framework for referring involuntary treatment order review matters to DLA Piper on a pro bono basis;
- provide invaluable casework support to the workers of the MHLS.
The secondment is for 6 months.
The MHLS prepared a submission to the Senate Committee on the Commonwealth Funding and Administration of Mental Health Services on 8 August 2011.
Senior lawyer of the MHLS Rebekah Leong takes on additional duties as Principal Lawyer of QAI.
The MHLS provided the keynote speech at the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties annual general meeting on 16/10/11. The speaking notes from the speech “View from the Coalface: Rights of the Mentally Ill in Queensland” are available here .
Kristie Swainston completes her secondment with QAI and QPILCH. In that time, she has:
- set up the Open Minds Legal Clinic;
- completed the basic structure and policy guidelines for the referral of ITO matters to DLA Piper on a pro bono basis;
- provided advice and assistance to the clients of the MHLS, including representation at Tribunal hearings.
From 2 April 2012, Robert McRae takes over from Rebekah Leong as Principal Lawyer of QAI and senior solicitor of the Mental Health Legal Service.
QAI enters into an agreement with DLA Piper Australia under which QAI coordinates the referral of clients subject to community involuntary treatment orders to DLA Piper for pro bono representation before the Mental Health Review Tribunal.
Nicholas Tucker of counsel, acting on a pro bono basis, is successful in having a forensic order revoked at a Mental Health Review Tribunal hearing.
Rebekah Leong returns to her role as Principal Lawyer of QAI.
MHLS makes a submission on the Queensland Mental Health Commission Bill 2012.
QAI instructs Karen Williams of counsel, funded by Legal Aid Queensland, in relation to a Mental Health Court appeal.
The Queensland Mental Health Commission Bill is passed into law, including amendments to the Mental Health Act which enable electronic monitoring of forensic patients. QAI issues a press release opposing the amendments.
MHLS participates in UQ/Caxton Legal Centre’s Manning St Project to investigate the issue of section 238 reports, which impacts on people on involuntary orders who have been charged with a criminal offence.