Background

The Magistrates Court Diversion Program has been operating since June 1999. It commenced as a pilot and in June 2001 the Government made a commitment to fund the program on a recurrent basis following an independent evaluation by the Office of Crime Statistics and Research that found that the program was having a positive impact on reducing re-offending. The Court was initially called the Mental Impairment Court but over time this name has been used less and less and both the Court and the Program are now known simply as the Magistrates Court Diversion Program.

The program targets adults who have impaired intellectual or mental functioning arising from:

  • mental illness
  • intellectual disability
  • a personality disorder
  • acquired brain injury, or
  • a neurological disorder including dementia.

The Magistrates Court Diversion Program is now only operating in the following regional courts: Murray Bridge, Mount Gambier, Port Augusta and Whyalla

^ Top 

Program Aims and Outcomes

The Program aims to achieve the following outcomes for people with a mental impairment   

  1. To prevent further offending behaviour by providing access to early assessment and interventions that address mental health or disability needs of defendants and their offending behavior
  2. Provide assistance to the court in the identification and management of people with a mental impairment in the court system
  3. Provide a diversion option in the Magistrates Court, for people who may otherwise plead a mental impairment defence under section 269 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act (1935).

Outcomes

An analysis of post program offending showed a high proportion of participants were not apprehended for offending in the 12 months following program completion. This is a positive indicator that the program is meeting one of its major aims. These reports are available from the Office of Crime Statistics and Research, Publications and Statistics page:

  • Magistrates Court Diversion Program - An Analysis of Post Program Offending - Evaluation findings (short report) (PDF Only 1,389kb)
  • Magistrates Court Diversion Program - An Analysis of Post Program Offending - Evaluation findings (full report) (PDF Only 3.258kb)

The following broader outcomes are also anticipated:

  • the development of best practice techniques in dealing with mentally impaired persons, specialised court based personnel with in-depth knowledge of court processes, mental impairment, service providers and treatment regimes who can advise on the management of people with an impairment
  • simplified and streamlined processes for dealing with people with a mental health and/or disability issue who come before the court
  • improved interface between health and justice systems, leading to shared outcomes for persons with a mental impairment and increased understanding of each sector and their systems
  • collection of data that will allow determination of trends and projections, and the impact on demand for services
  • incentives and opportunities for support services to respond pro-actively to issues impacting on their clients involved in the justice system
  • a greater understanding amongst service providers, and the public generally, of the needs of people with a mental illness or disability who have committed an offence, and issues impacting on the behaviour leading to that offence

^ Top 

Program Eligibility

The program targets adults who have been charged with minor indictable or summary offences to be heard in the Magistrates Court of South Australia, and who have impaired intellectual or mental functioning arising from:

  • mental illness
  • intellectual disability
  • a personality disorder
  • acquired brain injury, or
  • a neurological disorder including dementia

There must be a connection between the mental impairment and the offending behavior such that a link can be reasonably drawn. Otherwise if there is no connection then the intervention will have no impact on future offending.

The participant must be prepared to plead guilty to the most serious offences

^ Top 

Program description

The Program provides an opportunity for eligible individuals who have been charged with minor indictable or summary offences to be heard in the Magistrates Court of South Australia, to voluntarily address their mental health and/or disability needs and offending behaviours, while legal proceedings are adjourned for approximately 6 months. During this time the program staff link the individual to relevant services in the community and monitors their progress. By facilitating the involvement of community based service providers in addressing the behaviours arising from impaired intellectual or mental functioning, which are linked to the offending, the program improves the responses of both the criminal justice system and the health and disability service system.

The person’s involvement and progress is reported back to the court and the Magistrate, police and defence lawyers may use this information in dealing further with the case.

The Magistrate reviews the individual every two months to reinforce and reward compliance with treatment regimes and lifestyle changes and to take alternative action if the interventions are not working or if the individual is not complying with the interventions. The Magistrate may excuse the defendant from appearing in court for their reviews; however, all participants are required to appear for a final determination at the end of the adjournment period.

At the final hearing, the Magistrate makes a determination taking into account the participant’s involvement in the Program.  Depending on the nature of the offences, the Magistrate may dismiss the matter or convict without penalty. However the fact that a person has performed badly or has failed to make satisfactory progress is not relevant to the sentencing process. (Section 10(6) Criminal Law (Sentencing Act) 1988).

^ Top 

Program steps

The program consists of 4 primary steps

  1. Referral
  2. Assessment and Acceptance
  3. Treatment and Review
  4. Finalisation of Matters

Referral

  • For all participants, referral is activated at the Magistrates Court hearing at which s/he first appears after having been charged with an offence(s). The individual’s solicitor, police, the Magistrate, Police Prosecutions, a guardian or other person known to the individual or the individual themselves, may initiate the referral.
  • Referrals may also be made by workers from agencies that provide treatment or supports to the individual.  Where the individual is referred by Mental Health Services, individuals assessed by Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service (ACIS) to require detention under the Mental Health Act, will be transferred to an approved treatment facility rather than be referred to the Program
  • The person, or person’s guardian, is required to consent to assessment and participation in the Magistrates Court Diversion Program and to the exchange of information between treatment and service providers.  If consent is not given, the person will be referred to the normal court process where a defence may of course include the Mental Impairment Provisions (Part 8A) of the South Australian Criminal Law Consolidation (Mental Impairment) Amendment Act 1995, in relation to his or her mental competence to commit a criminal offence.
  • If the individual consents to proceed with the Program, then the matter is adjourned to another date to enable an eligibility assessment to be undertaken and a report prepared.
  • If the individual does not consent to proceed with the Program, his/her matters may be dealt with on the spot or set down to be heard at a later date in the general criminal list.  The individual retains the option of pursuing a defence through Section 269 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.

Assessment and Acceptance

  • An eligibility assessment is conducted in the courthouse and undertaken by a registered a member of the clinical team, often one of the psychologists.  The purpose of this assessment is to identify whether the individual has a mental impairment and any other needs that may be related to the persons offending behavior and whether involvement in the Program would be beneficial.
  • The Assessor will then identify the person’s treatment needs and develop a treatment plan.
  • A copy of the assessment report and treatment plan is provided to the individual’s legal representative, the Police Prosecutor and the Magistrate.
  • The Magistrate considers the assessment report and recommendations and decides whether to accept the person onto the program.
  • The Magistrate will expect that the person pleads guilty prior to accepting them onto the program
  • Once the person is accepted they will be given another date to appear in court in approximately two months.
  • If the preliminary assessment shows that the individual does not have a mental impairment and/or the Magistrate does not deem him/her eligible for the program, their matters are returned to the normal court process.  The individual retains the option of pursuing a defence through Section 269 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.

Treatment and Review Process

  • Following acceptance the participant will be assigned a case manager who will assist and support them to engage in the treatment plan and monitor their progress.
  • The case manager provides a review report to court approximately every two months and the participant is expected to attend the review hearings. There are usually two court reviews.

Finalisation of Matters

  • At the second review the Magistrate will decide when to require the participant to return to Court to finalise the matters. A final hearing is usually set about two months following the second review (six months from commencement of the program).    At this hearing, Program staff provide another written report, which summarises the participant’s involvement and progress throughout their time with the Program
  • Depending on the progress made and the nature of the offences, the Magistrate may dismiss the matter or convict without penalty. Other sentences may involve a fine or a bond.  However the fact that a person has performed badly or has failed to make satisfactory progress is not relevant to the sentencing process. (Section 10(6) Criminal Law (Sentencing Act) 1988

^ Top 

Determining Progress and Successful Completion

Engagement in the treatment plan and no further offending on the program are usually considered to be indicators of a successful completion.

^ Top 

Program staff and management

The program staff are organised into two teams: the Clinical Advising team and the Case Management team.

Clinical Advising team

The Clinical Advising team consists of psychologists with expertise in forensic and general psychological assessment. They undertake assessments of persons referred to the program and provide reports and expert advice to the Court regarding an individual’s suitability for the program and their needs. They also develop an intervention plan for the individual and that plan forms the framework for the involvement of the Clinical Liaison team. 

Case Management team

The Case Managers consists primarily of staff with social work or related human service backgrounds. Their role is to link individuals with relevant services and maintain good working relationships with service providers to ensure they understand the aims of the program and provide services to the clients. 

^ Top 

Program location

In a number of court locations the Magistrates Court Diversion Program has been replaced with the Treatment Intervention Program – see under that heading for more information.

  • Mount Gambier Magistrates Court  - Bi-monthly
  • Murray Bridge Magistrates Court     - Bi-monthly
  • Port Augusta Magistrates Court       - Bi-monthly
  • Port Pirie Magistrates Court              - Bi-monthly
  • Whyalla Magistrates Court                - Bi-monthly

^ Top

 

Related Links

Contact Us

For further information, contact the Magistrates Court Diversion Program:
 
p: +61 8 8204 8615
f: +61 8 8204 8620
MCDP@courts.sa.gov.au
 
Postal Address:
Magistrates Court Diversion Program
PO Box 6115, Halifax Street
Adelaide, South Australia, 5000