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Mental Health Court
Mental Health Court

What is mental health court?

Many courthouses across Ontario now have mental health courts. Mental health courts are criminal law courts created to help deal with accused persons who have mental health and other related issues. Depending on the courthouse that you are in, the mental health court may or may not be called “mental health court.” These courts are called different names, and operate in different ways. In some courthouses, the mental health court is open every day. In other courthouses, the mental health court may only operate once a week or every two weeks. Mental health courts in Ontario often have the following features:

  • a specific judge or group of judges that sit in that court;
  • a specific Crown or small number of Crowns assigned to that court;
  • a specific duty counsel or small number of duty counsel assigned to that court;
  • specially trained court officers;
  • mental health court workers;
  • an on-site psychiatrist on specific days (note: this is rare in courthouses in smaller communities).

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What happens in mental health court?

Many different criminal court proceedings can happen in mental health court. Some mental health courts deal only with assessment orders or mental health diversion. Other mental health courts do almost everything, including bail hearings, guilty pleas, judicial pre-trials, and some trials for accused persons with mental health issues.

Mental health courts are designed to deal with accused persons who are experiencing mental health difficulties with understanding and sensitivity. Often, they are less formal than other criminal courts. Depending on the courthouse, there may be specific criteria that must be met before an accused can be sent to mental health court. For example, in some courthouses, a mental health court worker may meet with the accused and recommend that they be dealt with in mental health court before they can be transferred into that court. In other courthouses, the criteria may not be so strict.

In order to find out about the mental health court in a specific courthouse, it is best to speak with a local lawyer, duty counsel, mental health court worker or a Crown.

Mental health:

What is mental health diversion?

Mental health diversion is a type of diversion.

Mental health diversion involves a way of resolving or dealing with criminal charges in a manner that doesn’t involve a guilty plea or a trial. Usually an accused person will have to take responsibility for their actions. Just as mental health courts operate in many different ways, mental health diversion varies from courthouse to courthouse. Mental health diversion usually involves seeing a doctor regularly, taking medication etc. As with other forms of diversion, it is the Crown who determines whether or not a matter with qualify for diversion.The Crown may decide that the circumstances of a case are too serious to offer diversion.

The accused’s lawyer (or duty counsel) may try to convince the Crown to offer diversion, but the decision is always the Crown’s. The judge does not decide which charges or matters qualify for mental health diversion.

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