Teaming up to ensure best possible expert evidence in crimes mental impairment cases

Teaming up to ensure best possible expert evidence in crimes mental impairment cases

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

One of our strategic advocacy priorities is to ensure that people with disability or mental health problems are not disadvantaged when exercising their legal rights.

This commitment has led to our recent collaboration with the Victorian Bar and Forensicare to run a training day aimed at ensuring quality presentation of expert evidence in cases run under the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997.

Victoria Legal Aid Chief Counsel Tim Marsh said that mental illness, intellectual disability and cognitive impairment bring very complex issues to a case. 

‘People with mental illness and disability are over-represented in the justice system. They are also more likely to experience multiple legal problems and have difficulty resolving them,’ Tim said.

‘Expert evidence plays a crucial role in determining the outcome in cases involving not guilty pleas on the basis of mental impairment, and the prevalence of methamphetamine related mental illness raises new challenges for advocates and psychiatrists alike in determining the likely causes of mental illness.

‘Experience in cross examining expert psychiatrists is central to both the criminal and civil practice of Chambers advocates, as they represent mentally ill and cognitively impaired clients at all stages on their path through the forensic mental health and disability systems.’

At the advocacy moots held on Tuesday 26 April registrars from Forensicare played the role of experts, alongside Victoria Legal Aid Chambers advocates who specialise in criminal and civil law.

Tim said that many cases run under the Crimes Mental Impairment Act are becoming increasingly complex, as the involvement of significant drug use such as ice and cannabis produces complex mental states that are hard to diagnose.

‘A lot turns on whether or not a person’s mental state is drug induced or organic, and judges rely on experts for the evidence to make that determination. Working closely with Forensicare in exercises like these gives us the opportunity to develop our approach to evidence in court and to get the best outcome for our clients.’

Victoria Legal Aid Chief Counsel Tim Marsh

At the training, each expert gave evidence in chief and was cross examined by advocates playing prosecution and defence counsel. Following this, senior advocates from Victoria Legal Aid Chambers and the Victorian Bar sat on a panel and provided feedback.

Forensicare consultant Dr Shannon Reid said the training provided Forensicare with a rare and valuable opportunity.

‘Not only did it provide our psychiatry staff with vital practise in giving expert witness testimony, but all who attended benefited from the chance to better understand the ways in which experts and counsel can interact with each other most effectively,’ Dr Reid said.

‘It greatly increased their understanding of the role of expert witnesses in the court process.’

Tim thanked everyone for participating and flagged the likelihood of more training to come.

Participants from Forensicare, the Victorian Bar and Victoria Legal Aid team up to run training on giving expert evidence in Crimes Mental Impairment cases.
Pictured L – R: Forensicare consultant Dr Shannon Reid; Forensicare registrars Hannah Lake and Dilani Daluwatte; Barrister Justin Hannebery; Victoria Legal Aid Senior Public Defender James Fitzgerald; Forensicare registrar Kirsten Clayer; and others from Victoria Legal Aid Chambers are Chief Counsel Tim Marsh; Associate Director Chambers Shannon Dellamarta; Associate Public Defender Anthony Pyne; Public Defenders Deirdre McCann and Julia Munster; Senior Public Defenders David Gibson and Jarrod Williams.

More information

Read more about our strategic advocacy priorities.

Visit the Victorian Bar website.

Visit the Forensicare website.

Was this helpful?