Research a boost to protecting human rights for people with disabilities

Research a boost to protecting human rights for people with disabilities

An independent study into how legal services can better protect the rights of people with a disability who have been detained for compulsory treatment in closed environments was launched in Melbourne last week.

Shining a Light Behind Closed Doors was written by Eleanore Fritze, a senior lawyer with Victoria Legal Aid’s Mental Health and Disability Law program who was awarded a Jack Brockhoff Foundation Churchill Fellowship to produce it last year.

Her research encompassed a tour of five jurisdictions, visiting mental health and disability services, attending court and tribunal hearings, courses and conferences and conducting interviews in New York, Washington DC, England, Vienna and Budapest.

It investigates inquisitorial and adversarial approaches and makes relevant comparisons to conditions in Victoria, highlighting the need for greater access to legal representation for people subject to compulsory treatment in this state.

In New York, everyone is represented, even those not attending their hearings or unable to provide clear instructions. It is a similar provision of legal service in England, where ‘non-instructed advocacy’ is also available.

By comparison, in Victoria only 18 per cent of people are represented before the Mental Health Tribunal.

New York Law School professor Michael Perlin, an international expert on mental disability law, described the report as ‘the most comprehensive document of its sort ever published’ in a special video message played at the launch.

Victoria Legal Aid Mental Health and Disability Law program manager Chris Povey and Executive Director Civil Justice Access and Equity Dan Nicholson introduced the report as a significant resource coming at a key moment in the progress of mental health legal services in Victoria.

Eleanore responded to questions after presenting her report, with those in attendance including representatives of the Mental Health Tribunal, Office of the Public Advocate and Department of Health and Human Services.

Download and read the report

Download and read the report Shining a Light Behind Closed Doors

More information

Read Dan Nicholson’s blog

Read Eleanore Fritze’s blog

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