SA Law Reform Institute calls for mental health law reforms

The organisation presented over 60 recommendations on key issues

SA Law Reform Institute calls for mental health law reforms

The SA Law Reform Institute (SALRI) has put out a call for mental health law reforms in the state.

This followed the organisation’s completion of an independent statutory review of the Mental Health Act 2009 (SA), which it undertook on behalf of the state government. In the final review, SALRI presented 61 recommendations for law and practice reform, and 11 suggestions on key recurring issues outside of the formal terms of the reference of the review, such as access to services, resourcing, and the quality of mental health services.

Among SALRI’s recommendations are:

  • update language to reflect rights-based and modern practice
  • ensure the criteria to impose a treatment order remain appropriate
  • the decision-making capacity of a consumer is safeguarded and the implementation of supported decision-making
  • address the complex intersection between mental health and the use of illicit drugs and/or alcohol
  • increase the relevance of laws to children, adolescents and older persons
  • promote aboriginal mental health and implement culturally responsive and appropriate services
  • improve data collection and analysis
  • retain the role of sa police and continue the operation of the co-response model
  • establish a statutory mental health commissioner role
  • clarify the roles of bodies including the chief psychiatrist, community visitor scheme, the mental health commissioner and the health and community services complaints commissioner
  • establish a framework to translate guiding principles into practice and an accountability mechanism for non-compliance

“Our review carefully considered the laws governing mental health and its wider implications in both policy and practice. One of the main considerations was to safeguard and promote the human rights of consumers, while also providing clear frameworks, processes and roles for all parties involved”, explained SALRI director John Williams AM, who is a professor at the University of Adelaide.

The review was led by PhD candidate Olga Pandos, who explained that the reform of mental health law “requires close attention to the human rights of the consumer”.

“The Act’s guiding principles serve as a foundation underpinning mental health law in South Australia and as an important symbolic function. However, if these principles are not translated into practice, this may prevent a consumer from receiving care and treatment which is person-centred and reinforced by effective accountability mechanisms”, she said. 

The ball is now in the SA government’s court to look into the recommendations.

“We need to get the balance right for our mental health laws – ensuring we prioritise wellbeing and rights of consumers, and protection and appropriate treatment. The government will now consider the recommendations and work on what the next steps will be, in consultation with key mental health groups and consumers”, SA health and wellbeing Minister Chris Picton said.

The Mental Health Act 2009 (SA) is set to be reviewed every five years. During the consultation process, 149 written submissions were received and 76 contributed to the YourSAy site. SALRI also hosted 42 individual meetings across metropolitan and regional SA.

“This report draws on the efforts of researchers and co-authors, as well as SALRI’s active and inclusive consultation process. SALRI is committed to ensuring an inclusive process and meaningful participation for consumers, consumer groups, people with a disability and experts, with a specific focus on regional communities and Aboriginal mental health”, said SALRI deputy director David Plater, who is an associate professor at the University of Adelaide.

SALRI is based at the university. The final review was published on 19 April.


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