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Commission Supports Law Seminars

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

28 July 2008 - Lawyers, health professionals and others will learn more about the law and mental health at a series of one-day seminars in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch this week.

The seminars in Christchurch (28 July), Wellington (29 July) and Auckland (30 July) have been organised by the New Zealand Law Society, with financial support from several organisations including the Mental Health Commission.

Chair Commissioner Peter McGeorge says the seminars will enhance lawyers' understanding of the law as it is applied to mental health, as well as the broader context of the current legislative framework.

"Lawyers working with mental health clients obviously need to have a rock-solid understanding of how the law should be applied, as well as the broader discussions that are going on about the application of human rights," says Dr McGeorge.

"The Commission is strongly of the view that people experiencing mental illness should be given as much choice as possible about their mental health treatment, regardless of their legal status under mental health or criminal justice law.

"At the same time we acknowledge the value of having a safety net in the form of robust, consistent and coherent legislation that's grounded in an understanding of the importance of human rights."

Dr McGeorge says the Commission is planning several pieces of work which will contribute to improvements in the legislative framework. For example, it will examine how service providers in the mental health and addiction sector can better safeguard the human rights of people experiencing mental illness, it will contribute to reviews of the current legislation, and it will develop a research proposal to look at the use of Advance Directives which aim to provide users of mental health services with the capacity to influence the way they are treated when they need mental health care.

"Initiatives such as the Law Society seminars are important because they provide practical training in key aspects of the law but also provide a sense of the wider legal framework."

Law Society member and Chair of the seminars, Tauranga barrister David Bates, says the seminars will meet a need for additional training in this area.

"Lawyers can usually go along to court and watch other lawyers perform, and from that learn what constitutes good practice. However, that's not possible in mental health advocacy because compulsory treatment order hearings are closed to anyone not immediately involved.

"The Law Society has encouraged seminar registrations from lawyers and non-lawyers. This is in recognition of the need for lawyers and health professionals to better understand each others' roles in simultaneously providing therapeutic assistance and legal protection for persons subjected to compulsory mental health processes.

"Each seminar will conclude with a mock court hearing conducted by a Family Court Judge. This will allow seminar registrants to observe what normally occurs in this setting, and also to ask questions."

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