The Impact of Mental Impairment Legislation for People with Cognitive Impairment: The Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign
30 May 2012
Monash University Law Chambers, 555 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
How come Marlon Noble spent almost ten years in a West Australian prison without ever being convicted for a crime?
This forum explored the human rights and legal issues for people with a psychiatric disability and cognitive impairment (intellectual disability / acquired brain injury) who come before the courts and are assessed as having a mental impairment and then found unfit to plead. This legislative process was designed as an alternative pathway through the courts for people with psychiatric disabilities and cognitive impairments who could not enter a plea or understand the criminal justice system. Unfortunately this process is having dire consequences in terms of liberty for people who are subject to its findings.
In a number of states and territories across Australia being assessed as mentally impaired and then found unfit to plead leads to indefinite detention in prisons and psychiatric units. Despite not being convicted of a crime, detention is often indefinite because there are no alternative accommodation and treatment options other than prisons or psychiatric units. In the Northern Territory, detention is in a maximum security prison. In Western Australia you do not have the right to appeal the findings.
This practice is disproportionately affecting Aboriginal people with psychiatric disabilities and cognitive impairments. It is the criminalisation of disability.
The Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign is a national advocacy campaign looking to shine a light on this practice. Representing the campaign, Patrick Keyzer (Barrister - Bond University) and Phillip French (Australian Cente for Disability Law) will present on key legal and human rights issue they believe central to this issue. As well they will present on actions they are currently facilitating in the Australian Human Rights Commission and the courts.
Phillip French is a lawyer and Director of the Australian Centre for Disability Law, a specialist community legal centre that specialises in disability and human rights law. He is currently acting for five Aboriginal men with intellectual disability who are subject to custodial supervision orders who are pursuing claims that these arrangements violate their fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Professor Patrick Keyzer is Director of the Centre for Law, Governance and Public Policy at Bond University. Patrick is a practising Professor and has represented clients in constitutional law and international human rights law matters in the High Court and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. His research interests are in constitutional law, access to justice, human rights and the relationship between the courts and the media.