JUDGES, magistrates and court staff will be trained to be more aware of mental health issues in the court system under a new initiative across Western Australia.
The WA Department of the Attorney General hired a Melbourne-based education and training company to help develop an online program to increase awareness of mental health and distresss in WA courts and tribunals.
Mark Dean, a former Perth lawyer and managing director of the company working the the AG Department, En Masse, said there is a critical need to understand how perceptions of those who are particularly vulnerable can perpetuate the inequalities from which they suffer, including when they interact with the justice system.
“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.
“The program provides decision makers and front line workers in the court system with a range of skills to enable a more mindful approach to dealing with people who have mental health and related problems including as a result of their cultural, familial and community experiences.
"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. 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.”
“We developed the training as eLearning modules which meant we could introduce some innovative instructional design elements to reinforce key learning outcomes and make the training engaging and interactive.”
The training specifically deals with dual diagnosis (addiction and mental health issues) and its impacts on client health and behaviour, as well as the extra responsibilities and pressures that carers and others associated with these clients routinely manage.
It also covers techniques for engaging and relaxing stressed clients with a range of mental health issues; how to communicate court processes and main messages clearly, using appropriate simple language; the questioning skills and the importance of empathy to encourage clients to share required details with the court; the key criteria to assess the degree to which the client’s mental illness contributed to their offending behaviour.
Dean, who now teaches human rights and ethics in workplaces, believes that initiatives such as this go a long way to providing a human rights based solution, a solution that respects and protects individual human rights, and provides especially vulnerable people with care and understanding when they need it most.