Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 02/28/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
The Manitoba courts have run into a new source of backlog -- lengthening lineups for psychiatric assessments are delaying cases, forcing accused persons to sit in pre-trial custody in jail or the remand centre. A shortage of forensic psychiatrists is the problem, but at root of the issue is what appears to be a historical deference to medical professionals.
The courts traditionally have relied on psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, to prepare reports on and testify to the competence or mental health disability of those charged with crimes. Courts have relied on the forensic unit at the Health Sciences Centre, typically staffed with five forensic psychiatrists, to complete these pre-trial assessments. That unit will soon be reduced to one physician as a result of retirements or the decision of some to leave to set up a more lucrative private practices.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is recruiting, but it's a tough job in a country where psychiatrists are paid less than other specialists. Furthermore, forensic psychiatry is a subspecialty of limited interest.
Courts, like the broader society, have moved to adopt greater sensitivity to the role mental health plays in criminal conduct. The advent of a court dedicated to dealing with accused persons debilitated by disorders, meanwhile, has increased pressure on the system's ability to gather psychiatric evaluations. Court-ordered assessments, increasingly, are central to the justice system's ability to determine criminal responsibility. Amid this, HSC's forensic unit has lost physicians and now assessments are being delayed excessively, with some being scheduled into April.
The WRHA (finally, some note) is planning now to include other practitioners, including psychologists, in the forensic unit to diagnose, treat and monitor people with mental illness who come into conflict with the law. It is also looking at improving the pay packets of psychiatrists.
This may help speed along requests for assessments, but it is anticipated that court reports will have to be signed off by psychiatrists. That reveals an unnecessary bias to physicians, whose skills are required in specific, but not all, cases where compromised mental health is in question.
Courts have defaulted to physicians (psychiatrists) to write assessments because the Criminal Code specifically sets out the necessity of a medical practitioner's assessment.
Sec. 672.1, however, allows the attorney general to decide if other qualified professionals can do the assessments. Forensic psychologists also provide advice, sometimes alone or in tandem with psychiatrists, to the courts. But courts continue to defer to medical doctors for evaluations of competency of the accused.
The idea has long past that most things related to health are the purview of those with MD attached to their names. Scope of practice for various health professionals has expanded, particularly in community hubs of health and wellness. Even the holy realm of drug prescription and referrals to specialists has been breached now that nurses, physiotherapists and psychologists are writing 'scripts' for patients. Canada is catching up to moves made in other jurisdictions.
The skills of forensic psychiatrists are specifically required for some severe medical illness. But many cases can be assessed by forensic psychologists, so the delay in the courts' ability to proceed with cases in which there is a question of mental capacity results from an archaic and exclusive bias.
What the criminal courts need is the educated advice and guidance of experienced professionals who can determine whether mental health and competency plays a role in criminal conduct. Manitoba's adherence to a strict reliance on forensic psychiatry is unnecessarily restrictive. Attorney General Andrew Swan should change the rules for court-ordered assessments to expand the expertise courts can rely on.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2013 A14
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Premiers, aboriginal leaders change tack
Free sneak peek advance tours of Human Rights Museum
Bombers hope to break ten-year Labour Day tradition
Nepinak calls for memorial to Hall
Gord Steeves wants to give Winnipeg's police drones
Woman hurt in collision dies; man to be charged
'Cops' crew member killed in Omaha police shooting
The NDP will launch a national inquiry into native women murders if elected
Bombers name four to hall of fame
Tim Hortons the conquering hero this time
Peace Corps program VP to stop by News Café
Newborn found in trash on ventilator; mom arrested
Police intercept mailed gun and ammo
Downtown gas leak closes streets, forces evacuation
Israeli premier, Hamas declare victory in Gaza war
B.C. man says others responsible for serial murders
Shooting by 9-year-old US girl stirs gun debate
Paula Havixbeck unveils plan to deal with frozen pipes
Man dies in vehicle rollover
Mayoral wannabes spew clichés at forum
Museum rejects St. Germain
Libya's UN envoy warns of 'full-blown civil war'
Camper missing for three days found on remote road
U of W researchers involved in projects getting $5 million in funding
Canadians pay $500M+ a year for paper bills: report
Canada Post reports profit in second quarter
US official warns Ebola outbreak will get worse
Missouri governor names new public safety director
NHL says 'nothing new' on expansion
Inquiry on premiers' agenda
Fans roar for Katy Perry
Still some summer heat left
Judicial review useless for family
Fallon to lead honours as Leno wins top humour prize
Spanish chain pulls kids' shirt after outcry
Spy thriller leaves us unshaken, unstirred
Landmarks to light up for cancer telethon
Advocates want to see NFL act on domestic violence
Rogen stages comedy special for Alzheimer's