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September 30, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Insanity on Campus

The Sensible Sentencing Trust (SST) is lobbying for changes in the way that mentally ill people who commit serious crime and their victims are dealt with by the legal system.

After a year of preparation by the Trust, the proposal was put to public discussion for the first time last Monday night at an event at Victoria University. The discussion was led by a panel of victims, lawyers, psychiatrists, and MP Louise Upston, who intends to bring about policy change in this area.

According to Ministry of Justice figures, the number of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ verdicts has risen by almost 600 per cent since 2000: a cause of concern for SST. Spokesman Graeme Moyle believes the rise has been caused by deficiencies within the current mental-health system, and said the SST is seeking to rectify situations such as this by pushing for an increase in the number of designated psychiatric hospitals so that mentally ill offenders can be securely accommodated in appropriate facilities.

They also want offenders acquitted by reason of insanity instead committed under the label “proven but insane”. The Trust says this is not about punishing those who are found legally insane at the time of the killing, but about getting justice for victims. Under the current law, mentally ill offenders are acquitted when they lack the mental ‘intent’ to commit the crime. While the Trust does not want to punish mentally ill people unduly, it argues that the existing legal framework fails victims.

“Victims of the criminally insane have no status in the justice system, no right to be informed, even about when their loved one’s killer is to be released. They have no right to know what the killer’s diagnosis and prognosis is, or when or if they are having unescorted community leave,” said David Garrett, a lawyer on the panel.

Victoria student and JustSpeak coordinator Lydia Nobbs described the proposal as a “fundamentally bad idea”.

“In many cases it means the defendant will end up in treatment under the care of the state for much longer; it’s a difficult defence to prove, and the Courts are pretty careful around allowing it.

“The reason the defence currently exists is similar to the reasons we don’t hold a toddler guilty of a crime,” said Nobbs.

For more information about the Sensible Sentencing Trust and this lobby, visit their website.

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