Section 32 Mental Health Applications in New South Wales

by Ugur Nedim

A former partner of accounting firm KPMG has faced Manly Local Court after admitting using a corkscrew to threaten a Liberal party campaigner, punching him in the stomach while holding the object, calling him a “paedophile supporter” and tearing down election posters for Tony Abbott in the lead-up to the federal election.

The lawyers for 62-year old Steven Economides made an application for their client’s two common assault charges to be dismissed on mental health grounds conditional upon him participating in a treatment plan for six months.

Magistrate Mark Richardson dismissed that application, describing the offences as “serious” and stating:

“In this day and age, there is an expectation that people who engage in actions bordering on violent in political matters will face the consequences of their actions in accordance with the law”.

Pleas of guilty were then entered to both charges and his Honour placed Mr Economides on a 12-month conditional release order with a criminal conviction.

Section 32 Mental Health Applications

Section 32 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 is often used to discharge defendants who suffer from mental conditions provided that they comply with mental health treatment plans.

In this way, they divert eligible persons away from the criminal justice system and assist them to receive the help they need to overcome underlying issues.

section 32 can be granted in situations where a person is suffering from a mental condition and it is more appropriate to deal with them by way of a treatment plan than to otherwise punish them.

Those who are granted section 32 mental health orders will bypass the court system in favour of a court-mandated treatment plan, and won’t receive a criminal conviction.

The magistrate may dismiss the charges altogether as long as the defendant agrees to participate in a treatment plan.

Alternatively, the magistrate may adjourn the court proceedings until the defendant has undergone treatment..

A section 32 is sometimes perceived as better than a section 10 dismissal or conditional release order as there is no finding of guilt.

What is a mental health condition?

A mental health condition is generally considered less severe than a mental illness.

Mental health conditions can cover a range of different issues including anxiety, depression, severe substance abuse, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anti-social personality disorder.

A mental health condition is broadly defined as a mental health problem which is treatable through a psychologist or counselling.

How do I get a section 32?

If you think you might be eligible for a section 32 mental health order, it’s important to speak to a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.

A lawyer who is experienced in getting section 32 orders will be able to arrange for you to see a suitably experienced mental health professional for the purposes of preparing the required report.

To successfully be granted a section 32, the magistrate needs to decide that the order is a more appropriate course of action than you continuing through the criminal justice system.

So, your lawyer will not only have to establish that you are suffering from a mental health condition, but also that a treatment plan is the most appropriate way to deal with your particular case.

What are the conditions of a section 32?

If you are granted a section 32 order, you will be required to abide by conditions which are set out in a treatment plan.

These plans last for up to six months, and will be tailored to your specific circumstances.

Under a section 32 you may be required to:

  • Abstain from drugs and/or alcohol and submit to testing.
  • Undergo mandatory counselling sessions.
  • Take prescribed medication.
  • Agree to have your medication and condition reviewed regularly (usually on a monthly basis).

If you don’t abide by the conditions, you could have your section 32 revoked, and be required to go through the normal court proceedings.

If being on a treatment plan is a condition of your bail, your bail may be revoked and you may be sent back to prison until your proceedings are finalised.

Section 32 orders are intended to be used for the purposes of rehabilitation and reducing reoffending in people with mental conditions.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence and believe you may be eligible to receive a section 32 order, you should contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible.

Author

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience in criminal defence. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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