Envisioning Next Generation Mental Health Courts for Australia

Dr Liz Richardson1

Australasian Institute for Judicial Administration and the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation at the Faculty of Law Monash University


Mental health courts have operated in Australia, the United States and Canada since the late 1990s. Growing evidence suggests that some of these courts have positive results for some offenders in reducing recidivism and bringing about improvements to health and wellbeing for participants. However, there has been little critical reflection on whether there have been unintended consequences or anti-therapeutic impacts such as net-widening arising from these courts. This paper considers the ways in which net-widening can occur using the theoretical framework of wider, denser and different nets to analyse the policies and procedures of mental health courts. It also considers the strands of logic underpinning the rationale of these courts. Based on this analysis the paper outlines the model for next generation mental health courts In Australia including recommendations to reconceptualise the rationale, objectives and target group of these courts and to address the problematic policies and practices of mental health courts by way of legislation, procedural manuals, and evaluation.


Dr Liz Richardson BA LLB MCrim Phd is the ICCE Officer at the Secretariat of the International Consortium for Court Excellence based at the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration. She is also Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation at Monash Law Faculty. Liz recently completed her PhD at Monash University entitled ‘Envisioning Next Generation Mental Health Courts for Australia’. Her research interests are problem-oriented courts, diversion and intervention programs, therapeutic jurisprudence, sentencing, criminology, criminal law, self-represented litigants, judicial and court administration.

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