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The Senate yesterday (Nov.11) resumed debate on the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act to provide greater protection for mentally challenged persons, who enter the penal system.
Debate on the Act began last week and at the time, Attorney General and Justice Minister, Senator A.J. Nicholson, explained that the Bill and its companion legislation, the Legal Aid Amendment Act, were aimed at “correcting the deficiencies, which currently exist, in addressing the matters surrounding the fitness of mentally challenged individuals to plead and to be tried.”
He noted that the legislation would specifically address inefficiencies in the courts’ tracking and monitoring systems, noting that, “poor record keeping has also contributed to the failure in identifying inmates, who have been in custody for many years.”
Senator Nicholson said that while the passing of the legislation would not be a panacea for all ills, once implemented, it would speed up the process of dealing with mentally challenged persons. With the amendments, references to “criminal lunatic” will be removed and the term “mental disorder” used.
Opposition Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, in her comments in the chamber on Friday, said that she was in support of the provision. She however called for efforts to rehabilitate mentally disturbed offenders instead of treating them as criminals. “We need to get away from that.they should not be treated like criminals at all,” she noted.
In his remarks, Opposition Senator Christopher Tufton, said that for the legislation to achieve its purpose, an enabling environment must be created. He pointed to the “urgent need” for psychiatric nurses in the penal system, noting that once there was only one consultant psychiatrist in the entire system.
The Bill addresses persons suffering from mental disorders in the criminal justice system classified as: those awaiting trial or determination of competence or fitness to stand trial; persons found guilty but insane; and those convicted of manslaughter instead of murder on the grounds of “diminished responsibility”.
In the meantime, the Bill’s companion legislation, the Legal Aid Amendment Act, to make provision for certain persons to be afforded legal aid when their cases are placed before the court, was also approved by the Senate.
The Bill, which is an amendment to Section 15 of the Principal Act, provides that legal aid may be granted to any person detained at a police station or in a lock up, correctional institution or other similar place.
In situations where an application for legal aid is made by or on behalf of a person in relation to an offence and the certifying authority finds that the individual is unable to afford legal services, a legal aid certificate may be granted to the individual. The certificate will entitle the individual to receive legal aid for the preparation and conducting of his defence and will also state the contribution if any, the person is required to make towards the cost of legal aid.