Bid to change mental health law fails

Andrew Brosnan
Bid to change mental health law fails

A Bill to change the law which kept a 23-year-old mentally impaired woman in Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison for 18 months, without being convicted of a crime, has failed to pass through WA Parliament.

The private member's Bill to change WA law and prevent people found unfit to plead in court being detained indefinitely was easily defeated on Wednesday.

The amendment was introduced after the case of Rosie-Anne Fulton, incarcerated despite never being convicted of a crime, received national attention. The Barnett Government made an election commitment in 2013 to undertake a full review of the Act, although it has been more than 10 years since a review of the legislation was first proposed.

Mental Health Law Centre principal solicitor Sandra Boulter said she was "very disappointed" the amendment was not passed as an "interim change" until the Government's full review of the Act.

"It would have been a very good start for law and policy reform to better treat people who aren't culpable for the crimes they commit," she said.

"At the moment we detain and treat people with a mental illness worse than someone who knew what they doing when they committed the offence.

"There are many things wrong with the Act that need urgent attention and the indefinite detention is one of them."

Kalgoorlie MLA Wendy Duncan, who voted against passing the amendment, acknowledged a finite term for custody orders was "the way to go".

But she said the act needed to be addressed in its entirety, rather than passing "piecemeal" legislation. "I voted against the legislation because the Government and the Minister for Mental Health (Helen Morton) had given us an assurance that a full review of the Bill is taking place," she said.

"Hopefully change will happen quickly, it's a very important social justice issue that does need attention."

Eyre MLA Graham Jacobs, who also voted against passing the amendment, said he "understood the rationale" behind finite orders.

Dr Jacobs said sometimes people found unfit to plead were not ready for release at the end of a given sentence.

"If the custody order expires in three months they still have to be in some form of care," he said.

"They have to be somewhere - it's not about incarcerating them it's about caring for them."

Shadow attorney-general MLA John Quigley said he was "unsurprised but bitterly disappointed" in the Government's response.

"All this would have done is ensured those who are so mentally unfit as to be unable to even plead to a charge would not be in prison for longer than a sentence they would have got if they pleaded guilty," he said.

"It is an appalling and pathetic response."