Legal practitioners will be called upon to assist people who are mentally ill under an initiative launched Tuesday by the NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos
The scheme, which was unveiled at Parliament House, involves training lawyers and health services representatives in a bid to improve the legal and health support offered at community organisations.
Developed by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) - with $1.3 million in funding from the Federal Attorney-General's Department, the Public Purpose Fund and Legal Aid NSW - the project will provide lawyers with the knowledge and skills they need to be able to offer legal assistance to people suffering from complex mental health conditions.
Stephen Kilkeary, the project co-ordinator of the legal aspect of the scheme known as the Mental Health Legal Service Project, told Lawyers Weekly that the training programs he will run for lawyers broadly cover the communication skills required for lawyers working for people with mental illness.
"It deals with some of the common stereotypes that people have about people who are mentally ill," he said.
"It also covers things such as understanding the availability of health and community services [for people with mental illness] which is particularly relevant to lawyers working in the community sector."
Kilkeary added that the training might also help lawyers deal with difficult situations - such as if a client became psychotic or got aggressive (which he said was rare), or if a client started talking about suicide or self harm.
He said the delivery of the training was adaptable to the situation in which it was required - meaning that community legal centres, law firms, and pro bono lawyers attached to various programs could tailor the training to meet their needs and circumstances.
Meanwhile, the program will also offer a separate training element for people with mental illness who are dealing with lawyers. Kilkeary said this was a way to ensure that clients understood just what a lawyer could offer, and how they should communicate with their lawyer.