New Zealand Law Society - Law Society warns of potential impact on mental health patients’ rights

Law Society warns of potential impact on mental health patients’ rights

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The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has told a parliamentary select committee that proposed amendments to extend the use of audio-visual links in mental health proceedings on a permanent basis need to be reconsidered.

The Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Amendment Bill amends the 1992 Act to eliminate indefinite treatment orders, improve the administrative efficiency of the Act, address changes to the transportation of special patients and make the use of audio-visual links in proceedings permanent.

The Law Society’s Family Law Section addressed the Health committee yesterday, noting to politicians that it is positive that indefinite treatment orders are being repealed but that amendments to make the use of audio-visual links permanent need to be reconsidered.

“Mental illness shows no respect for gender, ethnicity, age or socio-economic status.  It is an issue that could touch anyone in this room directly or indirectly,” Andrew Finnie, a member of the Family Law Section told the committee.

“The urgent temporary amendments, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabled the use of AVL for patient examinations and assessments when the physical presence of the patient was not practicable.

“AVL for mental health assessments and examinations under the Act has significant implications for the vulnerable people involved. It is not uncommon for people suffering from a serious mental illness to experience delusions and/or paranoia about cameras, television screens and other devices. Often, auditory and visual hallucinations are part of a mental health condition. The use of AVL has the potential to exacerbate these problems.

“It will also be difficult for clinicians to make accurate assessments when examining a patient via AVL, as many people do not respond well when speaking to a screen rather than a person who is physically present.

“AVL should only be used as a last resort and limited to situations where there is no other safe option available to conduct the assessment in-person. Whether the patient consents and the urgency of the assessment/examination required, should also be taken into account”.

The Law Society told the committee that it supports the repeal of indefinite treatment orders, as they breach human rights and create access to justice issues for those subject to them.  It asked the committee to consider the practical effects of removing indefinite treatment orders, such as the increased demand on judicial time.


More information

The Law Society’s submission on the Bill can be downloaded here:

The Bill can be read here: