Courts and Tribunals Tasmania

Mental Health and Cognitive Disability Diversion

The Diversion List

The Diversion List is a specialist court list targeting defendants who have a mental illness and/or impaired intellectual functioning. The Diversion List program operates with dedicated Magistrates in the Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie registries of the Tasmanian Magistrates Court.

Objective

The separate court lists or sittings for people with mental illness and/or cognitive disabilities focus on treatment and support of defendants. Dedicated magistrates are assisted by courtroom teams of health professionals, defence lawyers and prosecutors that aim to provide an opportunity for eligible individuals to voluntarily address their mental health and/or cognitive disability needs associated with their offending behaviour.

The Diversion List is intended to deliver a more therapeutic response to the offending behaviour of defendants with mental health or cognitive disability issues. These defendants offend usually in a nuisance type way i.e. shoplifting, disorderly conduct and similar and general court lists were not suited to consider the reasons behind the offending behaviour of these categories of defendants. They are usually repeat offenders. They present some problems in sentencing as they often have little money with which to pay a fine, and their offences are not serious enough for gaol or community service orders.

Eligibility Guidelines

Referrals to the Diversion List can come from the defendants themselves, family members, other magistrates, lawyers acting for the defendant, police prosecutors and from forensic health professionals housed in the court. The following eligibility guidelines apply to the List:

1.    The defendant is charged with a summary offence or an indictable offence triable summarily.
2.    The defendant has not been charged with an excluded criminal offence that involves serious violence or serious sexual assault, unless the court, at its discretion, considers the harm minor.
3.    The defendant has (or is likely to have) a mental illness, intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, autism spectrum disorder and/or a neurological impairment, including dementia.
4.    The impairment/s cause/s a substantially reduced capacity in at least one of the areas of self-care, self-management, social interaction or communication.
5.    A connection exists between the mental impairment and/or mental illness and the offending behaviour, the defendant being likely to derive benefit from participation in a problem-solving court process.
6.    There is no formal requirement that the defendant pleads guilty to any offence before he or she is accepted onto the program, however the objective facts of the offence cannot be contested;
7.    The defendant may not be eligible if the defendant, based on the opinion of Forensic Mental Health Services (Court Liaison) staff, has exhausted all reasonable and available treatment and/or support services for the mental illness and/or impaired intellectual functioning.
8.    The defendant consents to participate in the List, including attending court regularly and following the reasonable directions of FMHS (Court Liaison) staff.

A short explanatory article and a presentation by the Chief Magistrate about the Diversion List also outline some of the List’s key features.

A Diversion List Information Pamphlet is available.  The Diversion List Procedural Manual is currently being updated.

Crime Prevention Award

In October 2010 the Diversion List (or the Mental Health Diversion List as it was then called) received a Certificate of Merit as part of the Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Awards. The annual Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Awards are sponsored by the Heads of Australian Governments and members of the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management - Police as a joint Australian Government, State and Territory initiative. For more information see: www.aic.gov.au/en/crime_community/acvpa/2010.aspx

The Mental Health Diversion List achieved a ranking in the top 10 nation-wide. The Court is honoured to receive this recognition for its role in preventing and reducing violence in the community.

The evaluation of the first 18 months of operation of the Mental Health Diversion List pilot in Hobart is also available.

Governance

A Diversion List Steering Committee oversees the continued development of the List, and resolves strategic issues regarding tits operations.

The steering committee comprises:

• Chief Magistrate Michael Hill (Chair)
• Dr Len Lambeth, Chief Psychiatrist, Tasmania
• Mr Wayne Johnson, Administrator of Courts
• Mr Scott Tilyard, Deputy Commissioner of Police
• Ms Ginna Webster, Deputy Secretary, Department of Justice
• Mr Darren Carr, Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Council of Tasmania
• Professor Kate Warner, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania