Judge scathing of delays

Brad Strong
Brad Strong
A Dunedin judge has given a scathing assessment of the region's mental health services after hearing they were so busy it would take 10 weeks to prepare a report.

The issue arose this month at the Dunedin District Court when Judge Michael Crosbie was informed of the long wait by a forensic nurse.

``That is not good enough,'' the judge said.

He was quick to clarify it was not the staff who were in the gun.

``I don't wish to criticise these professionals; they do a great job ... but it appears to me, having performed this role for many years, that that's a delay in the order of which I have never heard before and it's unacceptable,'' he said.

In explanation, the Southern District Health Board employee in court explained his office covered Invercargill and seven other courts in the region.

Judge Crosbie requested his comments in court be transcribed and passed on to Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue.

He said it was for her information and ``for a discussion as to whether there are similar delays in other parts of the country, and whether that's a matter that needs to be taken up by the chief judge, the ministry of justice or appropriate service providers''.

Under the Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act, a judge may request a report be prepared by a ``health assessor'' to help the court understand elements of a defendant's mental health as it may have impacted their offending, the court process and sentencing.

Southern DHB medical director of mental health Brad Strong said the reports were prepared by consultant psychiatrists and clinical psychologists with ``very special training in forensic mental health and can be quite lengthy, as well as very time and labour intensive to produce''.

He said the increased waiting time was not due to cuts within the department, rather an increase in courts requesting such reports.

Mental health services were under ``enormous pressure'', Dr Strong said, to provide care to those in the community, as well as those going through the justice system.

``We are aware of the court's concerns and agree that smooth management of the judicial system is important. We are actively working to engage the court around these issues and will continue to do so.''

Experienced defence lawyer John Farrow said the reason long waiting times for reports were a concern was because if people were in custody while they were assessed, their liberty might be unduly compromised.

He said it was the same if they were on stringent bail conditions.

Not only was the defendant left ``in limbo'', Mr Farrow said, but complainants also had to wait longer for a resolution.

In the past, he remembered the reports taking as little as three weeks to complete and he said it was common knowledge the department was underfunded and had been for some time.

A spokeswoman for the Chief District Court Judge said she had not yet received Judge Crosbie's minute but might comment on the matter later.



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