On the edge of justice: the legal needs of people with a mental illness in NSW
This study examines the legal and access to justice issues experienced by people with a mental illness. The methodology comprised a literature review, focus group discussions with key stakeholders, in-depth interviews with 81 legal and non-legal service providers, and 30 semi-structured interviews with people who have a mental illness. The report concluded that people with a mental illness experience a number of legal issues with potentially serious personal and financial consequences, and face many barriers in having these legal issues addressed....
Chapter 5. Participation in the legal system
What if you don’t know how the court system works, what if you are too embarrassed to admit you don’t know what to say or do? Or admit that you are scared, or that you have anxiety, or you have a mental illness and you can’t cope? What if you don’t know who to talk to?1
As noted in Chapter 3, people with a mental illness experience a range of legal issues. As a result, people with a mental illness may come into contact with particular legal processes. This chapter will focus on the barriers that face people with a mental illness and prevent them from effectively participating in such legal processes. For the purposes of this chapter, ‘participation in the legal system’ includes participation in courts and tribunals, internal appeals processes of government departments (e.g. Centrelink), alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and other external complaints processes (e.g. NSW Ombudsman).
This study identified a number of barriers preventing people from initiating legal proceedings and participating effectively in proceedings once commenced. These included:
- cognitive impairment
- problems with time management
- communication problems
- features of the courtroom environment
- features of ADR
- a lack of legal representation
- perceived credibility of people with a mental illness
- failure to identify or recognise a person’s mental illness.
This chapter will also look at the features of legal processes that enable people with a mental illness to participate effectively. These include:
- flexible service delivery
- therapeutic jurisprudence.