Work on NI mental health court pilot will not resume until next year at the earliest
Delayed work to establish a dedicated mental health court in Northern Ireland will not resume until at least next year and possibly later, it has emerged.
Scoping work on the pilot mental health court was “paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic”, justice minister Naomi Long said earlier this month.
Mrs Long has not committed to a date for work to resume, but said yesterday: “It is hoped this scoping work can be revisited in 2022.”
The idea of establishing a separate court to take cases involving mental health issues has been discussed in Northern Ireland for over a decade, largely inspired by similar mental health courts in the United States which have demonstrated reductions in reoffending.
A report published by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) in 2010 said judges were “by and large sceptical of this proposal”, but the idea has gained more traction as mental health has become a more pressing issue for the justice system.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) reported in 2019 that Northern Ireland’s justice system is increasingly being used as a service of last resort for people with mental health issues.
The health system has struggled to respond to growth of mental health needs and so the justice system is coming into contact with increasing numbers of people who have not been able to access key health and social services that they need, it said.