The NSW Parliament has passed landmark reforms to better reflect community expectations about acts committed by people with mental illness and cognitive impairments.
Attorney General Mark Speakman and Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor said the Mental Health and Cognitive Impairment Forensic Provisions Act 2020 alters the language of the verdict ‘not guilty by reason of mental illness’ to acknowledge the impact of the harmful acts.
“Criminal justice proceedings are often a traumatising experience for victims and survivors,” Mr Speakman said.
“It can be particularly painful for victims and their loved ones to hear that a defendant is ‘not guilty’ of an offence, even though the court found the defendant committed the act.
“Last night, the NSW Government delivered on its promise to victims and families to introduce a new verdict that better recognises the conduct of the defendant in serious matters.
“NSW is the first state or territory in the country to empower its courts to hand down a finding of ‘act proven but not criminally responsible’.”
The package of reforms will also help reduce delays for victims and ensure community safety remains paramount in the forensic mental health system.
Mrs Taylor said these reforms recognise that defendants with serious mental health and cognitive impairment may sometimes require a tailored legal response.
“This Bill marks a significant step in ensuring our legal and mental health systems are working collaboratively in the best interests of victims, people with a mental illness or cognitive impairment and the wider community,” Mrs Taylor said.
“We have listened to over 75 different voices to ensure the appropriate balance is struck to protect the community, support the needs of the forensic mental health community and recognise the enormous trauma suffered by victims and survivors.”
Victims’ groups, mental health professionals, disability advocates and legal experts were consulted in the drafting of the Bill.
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