Page 621 - Week 02 - Thursday, 17 February 2005

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issues. It must ensure that magistrates, judges and defence counsel are well trained to recognise and understand the complexities of mental dysfunction. It must ensure that people before the court have the resources to present a thorough case about their fitness to plead and it must also ensure that the privacy of the individuals before the court is not needlessly infringed and sensationalised in the media.

The first two matters can be addressed through procedural means but require considerable and ongoing commitment by government. It is not enough to set up the legislation and then leave people with mental dysfunction to negotiate the court system on their own, unless they happen to fulfil the stringent criteria for access to legal aid. Nor is it enough to request that mental health training occur for magistrates and judges. Rather, the government must make clear the importance it attaches to this occurring and it must allocate funding and expertise to carry it out.

Our final issue with privacy can reasonably be addressed by an amendment to the legislation and we will be seeking to do this when dealing with the detail of the bill.

MR HARGREAVES (Brindabella—Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services, Minister for Urban Services and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (5.12): The purpose of this bill is to ensure that the question of an accused person’s mental fitness to plead in a criminal trial is dealt with by the courts.

The bill makes a number of important changes to the Crimes Act 1900 and the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act 1994 and minor amendments to the Magistrates Court Act 1930 and the Community Advocate Act 1991. These changes will enable the Supreme Court to decide by judge alone if a person accused of a crime is mentally fit to plead before the court. The judge will also determine whether or not the person will become fit to plead within 12 months. The Mental Health Tribunal will retain the task of reviewing the ongoing mental fitness of an accused person.

The bill also retains the current arrangements for special hearings of the court. An accused person who is not mentally fit to plead is entitled to have a special hearing of the court which examines the conduct of the accused person without determining the person’s culpability.

In our criminal justice system there is a range of criminal offences that are tried in the Magistrates Court only. Trials of these offences are known as summary proceedings. There are also a number of serious offences, traditionally known as indictable offences, that can be tried in the Magistrates Court. This bill will enable the Magistrates Court to determine the question of fitness to plead in summary proceedings and proceedings for indictable offences that can be tried summarily.

If the Magistrates Court decides an accused person is mentally unfit to plead, it must also determine whether or not the person will become fit within 12 months. As a consequence of the Magistrates Court’s new functions, the bill includes amendments to the Magistrates Court Act 1930 to allow for appeals to the Supreme Court.

The Magistrates Court has an important function in determining whether charges for indictable offences should be committed to the Supreme Court for trial. The bill ensures that in committal proceedings the Magistrates Court must reserve the question of fitness

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