Developing a Mental Health Court in Western Australia: Dealing with Competing Views

Mr Kevin  Tavener1

1WA Magistrates’ Court, Perth, Australia

The Start (mental Health) Court initially followed the standard drug court model, but changes have been introduced which reflect the individualised focus of the court and the participants.  The court deals with an increasingly broader range of mental health presentations and criminal charges, having   moved from relatively simple offences to persons facing imprisonment, including mandatory imprisonment.

The court’s tolerance towards drug use is different from the drug court and is reflective of the person’s particular mental health problems.  Experience has shown the best approach is to make a thorough individual assessment and establish a multi-disciplinary program to address the particular criminogenic needs. The court’s practices reflect its growing experience and, for example, we have sought to identify means by which the judicial officer can add value to the court.

The court works with an integrated clinical team, community corrections and an Outcare supplier which provides psychiatric assessments, psychological support as well as accommodation, training and living skills. The court accepts people most offences, as well as referrals from the District and Supreme courts, except for those persons who present as a risk.  A participant must be on bail, which the court can grant after consideration of the particular circumstances.

As a pilot program (3 year funding now approved) the Treasury Review required the Court to prove it saved money, by reducing offending and presentations to mental health hospitals. Treasury was satisfied the Court achieved that outcome.  One consequence is the Start Court magistrate has responsibility for the separate intellectual disability court.

There are intrinsic tensions between the legal and mental health systems, such as deciding on priorities in relation to an individual’s mental health and criminogenic needs. The underlying theory is to promote long-term stability, which often starts with accommodation and/or immediate mental health interventions. The sentencing process is a challenge when there has been a prolonged interaction between the defendant and the court.


Prior to becoming a Magistrate, Kevin was a barrister working in criminal law and asset forfeiture.  He has been a UN War Crimes Prosecutor, a lecturer in International Human Rights Law and a Mining Warden. He holds Masters degree in Taxation, International Law and Criminology.  Since 2014 he has been the Magistrate assigned to the Start (Mental Health) Court operating from the Perth Central Law Court.

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