New Zealand Law Society - Support for Mental Health Roster reform objective

Support for Mental Health Roster reform objective

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The New Zealand Law Society agrees with the objective of proposed reform of Mental Health Rosters by the Ministry of Justice.

A ministry consultation paper, Mental Health Rosters, proposes national implementation of a referral and roster system administered by Legal Aid Services (LAS) in relation to representation of patients involved in proceedings under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1990.

LAS would prepare a weekly roster for each Family Court and, if a patient does not indicate a preference for a lawyer, to refer the patient to their previous lawyer or to the lawyer on the roster for the relevant hearing week.

The Law Society has released its comments on the discussion paper. It says it supports LAS administering the mental health rosters in principle. This is subject to the rosters recognising and providing (where appropriate) for regional differences.

"Ideally this should lead to consistent services for mental health legal aid clients and providers, while at the same time retaining sufficient flexibility for operation of the rosters to be 'tailored to recognise differences between regions in volumes of cases and the number of available providers' (as noted at page 2 of the paper)."

The Law Society says it is particularly important that the reform of the rosters - including the introduction of national administration - recognises the welfare and rights of patients and the complex nature of the work that mental health lawyers undertake.

Patients subject to compulsory treatment are frequently not able to make rational decisions and are often agitated, distressed, angry, incoherent and acutely unwell.

"A therapeutic relationship based on rapport and trust is particularly important, as well as flexibility within the legal system designed to protect and represent them," it says.