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Mentally ill ‘let down by justice system’

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Offenders with mental health disorders are being victimised and let down by an out-of-date criminal justice system, according to defence lawyer Saul Dismont.

Mr Dismont maintains that some individuals before the courts who suffer from mental health problems are being wrongly denied access to legal aid and drug rehabilitation treatment. Yesterday at the Supreme Court arraignments session, Mr Dismont lamented the decision of the Legal Aid Board to refuse financial help to a client because his disability allowance took him over the threshold to be eligible for legal aid.

Puisne Justice Charles-Etta Simmons acknowledged that the situation was “rather frustrating”.

Mr Dismont told the court: “My client finds himself in the unfortunate position where he has been denied legal aid because his disability allowance is over the legal aid threshold.

“I also applied for legal aid to challenge that decision, but that was also refused.

“This man has mental health problems, so it is obviously essential that he has a lawyer to help him and also an intermediary.

“However, without legal aid he does not have the benefit of either.”

Mrs Justice Simmons added: “This is a serious case and also a case where, if the defendant was not represented, he would be required to cross-examine the complainant. That is a situation no one wants to see.”

Last month, Mental Health Court was officially launched, after two years as a successful pilot project, to provide treatment alternatives other than custody for offenders with mental health problems. The programme employs a court-monitored and case-managed treatment system to supervise participants in the community.

But Mr Dismont told The Royal Gazette that another client, who attended Mental Health Court, could not gain access to drug rehabilitation treatment because service providers do not take on offenders with mental health disorders.

He has called for a dual level of service where individuals with a dual diagnosis of a mental health illness and a drug addiction can get the necessary treatment.

“This man cannot get drug rehabilitation in Bermuda because he has a mental health illness and drug rehabilitation service providers will not treat him,” Mr Dismont said. “Both Mental Health Court and drug treatment need a dual level of service for mental health problems and drug addictions.

“It does not serve Mental Health Court or this community to deny my client’s desperate need of rehabilitation allowed by treatment providers.

“Unfortunately, that lack of services reflects the rights at the core of our legal system. In Bermuda, the most vulnerable, being children and people with mental health problems, have less protection than everyone else because, under the Bermuda Constitution, mental health and age are not protected categories.”

Lawyer Saul Dismont