Work to establish dedicated Mental Health Court to move forward this year

Work to establish a dedicated Mental Health Court in Northern Ireland is set to move forward later this year.

The Department of Justice has confirmed that a project board for the proposed problem-solving court has been established and plans will be developed in conjunction with other stakeholders including the Department of Health.

The idea of establishing a separate court to take cases involving mental health issues has been discussed in Northern Ireland for over a decade, largely inspired by similar mental health courts in the United States which have demonstrated reductions in reoffending.

A report published by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) in 2010 said judges were “by and large sceptical of this proposal”, but the idea has gained more traction as mental health has become a more pressing issue for the justice system.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) reported last year that Northern Ireland’s justice system is increasingly being used as a service of last resort for people with mental health issues.

The health system has struggled to respond to growth of mental health needs and so the justice system is coming into contact with increasing numbers of people who have not been able to access key health and social services that they need, it said.

Justice Minister Naomi Long, responding yesterday to a written question in Stormont from Pat Sheehan MLA, said: “Problem-solving justice is a new approach in Northern Ireland aimed at tackling the root causes of offending behaviour, reducing harm and addressing vulnerabilities within families and the community.

“The Department, in partnership with other government departments, agencies and the voluntary and community sector, has developed a portfolio of problem-solving justice projects which are at various stages of development.

“A project board has been established and plans for the development of a Mental Health Court are due to be scoped this year, in conjunction with other stakeholders including the Department of Health.”

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