Pilot to Permanency: The Ongoing Journey of the WA Mental Health Diversion Court

Magistrate Felicity Zempilas1, Dr Adam Brett2, Mark Edmunds3

1 START Court (Mental Health Service) Perth Magistrates Court 501 Hay St PERTH 6000 

2 START Court (Mental Health Service) Perth Magistrates Court 501 Hay St PERTH 6000

3 START Court (Mental Health Service) Perth Magistrates Court 501 Hay St PERTH 6000 

START (Mental Health Diversion) Court commenced as a pilot in WA in 2013. In 2016 it obtained funding via the Mental Health Commission to operate for a further three years.

START Court is a therapeutic sentencing court for offenders with a mental illness supported by a multidisciplinary team, including a dedicated magistrate, prosecutor and duty lawyers as well as psychiatrists, mental health nurses, social workers, peer support and community outreach workers. It operates four days per week in Perth Magistrates’ Court.

The development and operation of START Court presents many practical and philosophical challenges but some clear ideas have emerged about what works and what still needs to be done to ensure its success, in circumstances where success is measured not only by the satisfaction and performance of participants but also by government agencies who hold the purse strings.

Key strengths will be a quality evaluation, multidisciplinary/interagency co-operation and teamwork, a clear and consistent framework for the operation of the court, strong perceptions of procedural fairness by participants and consistency of staff attached to the court.

Key challenges include effectively measuring the performance of the court, ensuring co-occurring treatments needs are adequately addressed and given sufficient weight, selecting appropriate participants and setting a framework that adjusts to the rapidly fluctuating circumstances of participants.

The presentation aims to explore the experience of START Court in WA to draw from the lessons learned and identify ways in which the court can progress from a pilot to a therapeutic court which is firmly entrenched in the court structure.


Magistrate Felicity Zempilas is the designated START (Mental Health Diversion) Court Magistrate. Dr Adam Brett is the psychiatrist attached to START Court and Mark Edmunds is the manager of the clinical team attached to START Court.

Adam Brett is a Consultant Psychiatrist from Perth, WA, works at the WA Mental health court, also provides private reports for the criminal justice system, works in Busselton mental health and for the Autism Association of WA.

Mark Edmunds is currently employed as the Start Court Clinical Nurse Manager. I have over 20 year’s experience working predominantly in community mental health services, both as a clinician and in management. I genuinely enjoy helping disadvantaged individuals reach their goals whilst also providing a supportive and positive environment for team members.  I have recently commenced as a Master of research student, soon to begin my study in the Start Court. I have intermittently ventured into the private sector, not in health but as a Indian takeaway owner and property developer. So my hobbies or pastime includes trying new curries and lots of home renovations!

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