A former Perth lawyer is leading the fight against poor outcomes in the court system experienced by those suffering from mental illness.
Mark Dean, a former lawyer and managing director of En Masse, a Melbourne-based education and training company, said there is a critical need for those working within the court system to understand how perceptions of those who are particularly vulnerable can perpetuate inequalities, including when they interact with the justice system.
En Masse has partnered with the Western Australian Department of the Attorney General to develop an online training program to increase awareness within the WA Courts and Tribunal Services (CTS) Division about complex mental health issues.
The training program will target judges, magistrates and court officers with the aim of teaching them how to provide effective and appropriate support and service to clients who may be suffering from mental illness or distress.
"Our brief was to create an awareness and training curriculum that assists judges, magistrates and court officers in WA to understand more comprehensively the psycho-social issues experienced by people who have mental health issues, as well as some of the cultural and other behavioural indicators that warrant special care and attention," said Dean.
Dean said the program will provide decision-makers and frontline workers in the court system with a range of skills to enable a more mindful approach when dealing with people who have mental health-related problems.
"We're confident that this will enhance the skills of people working at any level in the system to manage in a helpful way their interactions with particularly vulnerable people," he said. "Ultimately, this should contribute to a more equal playing field for everyone, as well as an enhancement of the positive perceptions of the justice system among people who interact with it."
Professor Colleen Hayward, the head of Kurongkurl Katitjin at Edith Cowan University's Centre for Indigenous Education and Research, worked with En Masse in the design and delivery of the program.
"From the initial briefing of my colleagues at En Masse through to the finalisation of our curriculum, it was clear that the psycho-social issues experienced by Aboriginal people in WA, including as they impact on the experiences Aboriginal people have with the criminal justice system, gives me great confidence of the Government's commitment to continually tackling the inequalities evidenced by incarceration rates of indigenous Australians," she said.
The initiative was launched on 19 October to coincide with WA Mental Health week and will be progressively made available to court staff, judges and magistrates.