Rethinking forensic mental health law

Dr Fleur Beaupert

Last Friday La Trobe Law School lecturer Dr Fleur Beaupert presented a paper for a symposium on the topic of ‘The Harms and Fallacies of Medicine’ convened by Nexus: Monash Social Science, Humanities and Medicine Network.

The symposium began with a presentation by Dr Linda Barclay from Monash University titled, ‘The indignity of health care and why it matters’. Fleur’s paper, ‘Forensic mental health/disability systems and ‘not guilty by reason of mental impairment status’: coercion, psychiatrisation and legal malfunction’ followed, and the final paper was given by Dr Michael Savic on ‘“What constitutes a ‘problem?’“ Producing ‘alcohol problems’ through online counselling encounters’.

Fleur’s paper reflected on the operation of forensic mental health law in view of Victorian Supreme Court and Court of Appeal decisions about the supervision and release of people found not guilty by reason of mental impairment under the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997. This enquiry was informed by perspectives of psychiatric survivors and some mental health service users which challenge the monopoly psychiatry holds on the production of meaning about madness and mental distress, as well as human rights developments signalling the urgent need for enhanced respect for patient autonomy in the mental health sphere since the advent of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Fleur’s paper explored how forensic mental health law deviates from such contemporary understandings, paying attention to the unique interaction of law and psychiatry in the exertion of coercive power over forensic patients. Judicial assessments of individuals’ ‘compliance’ with medical treatment considered necessary by psychiatrists are central to this process.

The presentations traversed several common themes relating to the construction of medical and psychological ‘problems’, the forms of discrimination and oppression that are experienced by people with disability and possibilities for moving towards more holistic approaches.

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