Alan Shatter (Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence), James Reilly (Minister for Health) and Kathleen Lynch (Minister of State at both Departments with special responsibility for Mental Health at the Department of Health), announced that they have tasked an Interdepartmental Group to examine the issue of people with mental illness coming into contact with the criminal justice system. This is a very welcoem development in an area of law and policy that has received little attention in the past. The establishment of the Interdepartmental Group is on foot of a recommendation of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group. The Interdepartmental Group includes representatives from the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Health as well as relevant services including the H.S.E, the National Forensic Mental Health Service, the Garda Síochána and the Irish Prison Service and is jointly chaired by both Departments. The Group is due to report back to the responsible Ministers by mid 2012.
Terms of Reference of the Interdepartmental Group is as follows:
Pursuant to the recommendation of the Report of the Thornton Hall Project Group (July 2011) the Cross Sectorial Health/Justice Team is charged by the Minister for Health and the Minister for Justice and Equality with examining issues relating to people with mental illness or a mental disorder interacting with the criminal justice system and its agencies and having regard to Government policy in relation to the delivery and future development of the Forensic Mental Health Services, including the principles which should underpin the delivery of such services as set out in A Vision for Change shall endeavour in particular:
- to identify the circumstances where such interactions take place, the agencies and services potentially involved and the issues that arise (including interaction with the Gardaí, decisions to prosecute or not to pursue criminal charges, diversion, persons in custody including imprisonment and post custodial arrangements);
- to establish if practicable an indication of the annual number of incidents or individuals involved in the different circumstances;
- to set out existing practices, background and developments;
- to take into account evidence of good practice in other jurisdictions;
- to take into account relevant reports and recommendations;
- to consult as appropriate;
- to consider the circumstances where it might be appropriate to divert people suffering from a mental illness or mental disorder away from the criminal justice system to more appropriate services, how best to achieve this and whether guidelines, principles or statutory provisions should be introduced to facilitate or inform such diversion;
- taking into account the resources available and international evidence as to good practice in the field, to consider how best to deliver mental health services to persons properly in the criminal justice system, to facilitate their return in due course to the community and to ensure necessary treatment continues after release
- to report to and make recommendations to the Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Health for consideration by the Government by mid 2012.