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Research Report: On the edge of justice: the legal needs of people with a mental illness
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On the edge of justice: the legal needs of people with a mental illness  ( 2006 )  Cite this report

Ch 1. Introduction



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Why a project on the legal needs of people with a mental illness?


The criteria for choosing the disadvantaged groups that would be examined individually in the Access to Justice and Legal Needs Program were:
  • the extent to which these groups may be missed by the quantitative legal needs assessment (Stage 1, see the Foreword and below for a description)
  • whether there was a case for special consideration of a particular disadvantaged group
  • the extent to which these groups have been previously examined in terms of their access to justice and legal needs.

The quantitative legal needs assessment was conducted by way of a telephone survey of households in disadvantaged regions in NSW. It was not the purpose of the study to obtain representative sub-samples of specific disadvantaged groups such as people with a mental illness; rather the purpose was to survey six disadvantaged communities as a whole. Nonetheless, a small sample of people who responded to the survey indicated that they did have a mental illness. This small sample, however, was unlikely to be a representative group, given the varied living arrangements of people with a mental illness, which can include shelters, refuges and boarding houses.69 It was also expected that many people may not self-identify as having a mental illness in the telephone survey. This expectation was realised with only 5% of the sample indicating that they had a mental health problem.70

As was mentioned above and will be further evidenced later in this chapter, people with a mental illness have been identified as among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community.71 The relationship between mental illness and other forms of social and economic disadvantage make this a group of particular interest for the Access to Justice and Legal Needs Program.

We turn next to examining the final consideration, that is, the extent to which the legal needs and access to justice issues for people with a mental illness have been addressed in previous literature.



HREOC, Human Rights and Mental Illness, Jablensky et al., People Living with Psychotic Illness, NSW Parliament Legislative Council Select Committee on Mental Health (Select Committee on Mental Health), Mental Health Services in NSW: Final Report, Parliamentary Paper No. 368, NSW Parliament, Sydney, 2002.
C Coumarelos, Z Wei & A Zhou, Justice Made to Measure: NSW Legal Needs Survey in Disadvantaged Areas, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2006.
Butterworth, Estimating the Prevalence of Mental Disorders among Income Support Recipients, HREOC, Human Rights and Mental Illness, Jablensky et al., People Living with Psychotic Illness, Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), Submission to the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health, 2005, <http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/mentalhealth_ctte/submissions/sub262.pdf> (accessed August 2005), M Palmer, Inquiry into the Circumstances of the Immigration Detention of Cornelia Rau, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, Select Committee on Mental Health, Mental Health Services in NSW: Final Report.

69  HREOC, Human Rights and Mental Illness, Jablensky et al., People Living with Psychotic Illness, NSW Parliament Legislative Council Select Committee on Mental Health (Select Committee on Mental Health), Mental Health Services in NSW: Final Report, Parliamentary Paper No. 368, NSW Parliament, Sydney, 2002.
70  C Coumarelos, Z Wei & A Zhou, Justice Made to Measure: NSW Legal Needs Survey in Disadvantaged Areas, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2006.
71  Butterworth, Estimating the Prevalence of Mental Disorders among Income Support Recipients, HREOC, Human Rights and Mental Illness, Jablensky et al., People Living with Psychotic Illness, Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), Submission to the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health, 2005, <http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/mentalhealth_ctte/submissions/sub262.pdf> (accessed August 2005), M Palmer, Inquiry into the Circumstances of the Immigration Detention of Cornelia Rau, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, Select Committee on Mental Health, Mental Health Services in NSW: Final Report.


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Karras, M, McCarron, E, Gray, A & Ardasinski, S 2006, On the edge of justice: the legal needs of people with a mental illness in NSW, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney