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  • People experiencing major mental illness while facing serious criminal charges are extremely vulnerable.
  • A new Bench Book entry on the Procedure for fitness to be tried and mental illness cases guides courts and practitioners through the legal process and offers expert assistance
  • This new entry tells how to obtain a free, independent expert forensic psychiatric report for mentally ill individuals. Such a report will include advice on whether a person can live safely in the community and the kinds of conditions that will help keep the person mentally well.
  • The Bench Book entry also gives practitioners a step-by-step guide through court processes for accused persons who are unfit for trial or have been given a verdict of not guilty by reason of mental illness.

Mental illness is very common. One million people in NSW live with mental illness. A survey of those in NSW custody found 47 per cent of men and 54 per cent of women had been diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder (2009 NSW Inmate Health Survey: Key Findings Report).

There were approximately 3600 criminal matters finalised in the District and Supreme Courts in 2013, but only about 80 decisions were made under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 (MHFPA) (see BOCSAR, NSW Criminal Courts statistics 2013; MHRT Annual Report 2013/2014). Most criminal law practitioners therefore grapple with the MHFPA infrequently.

How, then, do you find your way through the minefield?

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