In a bid designed to ease the backlog of forensic psychiatric assessments in the state’s courts – a backlog exposed by the recent controversy over notorious pedophile Colin Charles Humphrys – Attorney-General Vickie Chapman is today moving to change the state’s Criminal Law (High Risk Offenders) act.
The changes will remove references to “legally qualified medical practitioners” and replace them with a new delineation – “prescribed health professionals” – who will be empowered to assess criminals and “report to the court on the results of the examination”.
The changes were prompted after the running saga of Humphrys’ imminent release exposed serious delays in the processing of psychiatric assessments for court.
Last year, the Supreme Court granted the convicted pedophile supervised release, prompting the State Government to hastily introduce new laws overturning the release of dangerous sex offenders if two forensic psychiatrists determine that they pose a risk to community safety.
However, Humphrys again sought release this month after it emerged the second report needed to keep him behind bars would take prosecutors another six months to obtain.
The report was later fast-tracked, to be ready by March 11, with the case adjourned until March 13.
Chapman has now moved to alleviate future delays, introducing legal changes allowing not just psychiatrists but registered psychologists to provide reports for courts to consider whether an extended supervision order should be imposed on certain offenders.
However, forensic psychiatrists would still be required for high-level and complex cases – including that of Humphrys.
The Bill “does not propose to amend the Sentencing Act 2017 to permit registered psychologists to provide reports under that Act in respect of persons alleged to be unable or unwilling to control their sexual instincts”, Chapman said.
“Although the Sentencing Act is not proposed to be amended to permit the use of registered psychologists to provide such reports, the changes proposed to the high risk offenders legislation are likely to have a beneficial indirect effect in respect of reports from psychiatrists under the Sentencing Act.”
Chapman said that “by allowing registered psychologists to prepare some reports – under the governance of the clinical director – this will free up our forensic psychiatrists to finalise more complex reports in a timelier manner”.
The Bill covers high risk offenders imprisoned for serious sexual or violent offences, including terrorism offences.
“The High Risk Offenders Act allows me as the Attorney-General to make application to the Supreme Court for a high risk offender to be subject to an extended supervision order on their release into the community from a term of imprisonment,” Chapman told parliament.
“On breach of such an order, the high risk offender may be liable to a continuing detention order being made against them by the court.”
She said there was “a small pool of psychiatrists” in SA “who specialise in criminal matters, and are qualified to undertake these forensic assessments for the courts”.
“Given the various demands on these psychiatrists, it can lead to delays in these assessments being prepared for the court.”
The Attorney said the Government’s “first priority will always be keeping the community safe, which is why I have been working to find a solution that ensures reports can be delivered to the court in a more timely fashion, while still ensuring the same high level of quality advice is prepared”.
She said the revised model had been developed “in conjunction with Forensic Mental Health and is designed to free up resources so that our forensic psychiatrists can focus on the more complex matters relating to high-risk offenders and, under the Sentencing Act, specifically those sex offenders alleged to be unable or unwilling to control their sexual instincts”.
The changes will also allow “appropriately trained forensic nurses” to undertake around 40 per cent of assessments currently undertaken by psychiatrists – under the supervision of the Consultant Forensic Psychiatrists.
Forensic psychiatrists will also be paid more to prepare complex reports relating to high risk offenders and those unable to control their sexual instincts, with SA Health committing “significant new funding to employ an additional psychiatrist to support the new forensic court assessment and diversion model”.
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