Why we can name this forensic mental health patient, but you can’t: open justice in action

By MARK PEARSON

Almost 13 years ago an interpreter at the Community Relations Commission in Ashfield in Sydney – Ms Radmilla Domonkos – died in a fire that had been deliberately lit. Two colleagues were critically injured.

Long_Bay_Jail_2

Long Bay Correctional Centre in Sydney. Photo: JBar, WikimediaCommons

A co-worker was charged with her murder and with maliciously damaging property by fire with intent to endanger life.

After two years of court processes in March 2004 the accused was found not guilty on the ground of mental illness and has since then been held for treatment at the Long Bay Prison Hospital under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act (1990).

As in many other jurisdictions, the Mental Health Act (2007) prohibits at s. 162 the publication of the names of such patients even if they wish to be named.

As my colleague and research partner Associate Professor Tom Morton explained in an ABC Radio National Background Briefing program – The Man Without A Name – earlier this year, this patient has been prevented from telling his own story because of such anonymity provisions.

As he reported there, the ABC prepared a detailed application for permission to name the patient in that program and we attended a special hearing of that application before the Mental Health Review Tribunal in Sydney last September.

That application was approved, and Tom was able to name the patient in that program that aired in April this year.

However, were advised that such permission was limited to that single publication of the patient’s name. In other words, even though you can listen to a podcast of that program available here to discover his name, we would not be allowed to repeat it in our research outputs without further permission.

Earlier this year we went through that process, and I am pleased to advise that the Mental Health Review Tribunal has granted us permission to name the patient in our research publications and also in this blog.

I believe this is somewhat of a first – an academic research blog being granted permission to name a forensic patient – so journlaw.com is likely breaking new ground here as we do so.

The order states:

The means of publication are restricted to the following outlets for academic scholarship:

1. Academic journal articles, books and book chapters authored by Professor Morton and / or Professor Pearson.

2. Academic research blogs authored by Professor Morton and/or Professor Pearson.

It proceeds to require that any such publication must indicate our authorship, that the Tribunal can withdraw the consent at any time, and that any publication must carry the following notice:

“Notice: It is an offence under the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW) section 162 to publish or broadcast the name of any person to whom a matter before the Mental Health Review Tribunal relates or who appears as a witness before the Tribunal in any proceedings or who is mentioned or otherwise involved in any proceedings under the Mental Health Act 2007 or the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990, unless consent has first been obtained from the Tribunal. The author has obtained such consent to publish Mr Dezfouli’s name.”

That should make it clear why we can name the patient but you cannot – at least without going through this whole process of application detailed in the Tribunal’s Practice Direction on s. 162, viewable here (pdf file).

So, after that extended preamble, I shall now reveal the patient’s name.

It is Mr Saeed Sayaf Dezfouli.

dezfouli

Forensic patient Saeed Dezfouli. Photo: Justice Action

In coming months we will be publishing our academic outputs on the research and journalistic processes involved in our pursuit for permission to identify Mr Dezfouli, kindly funded by a Rule of Law Institute of Australia grant.

Clearly, there are many competing rights and interests at stake in such a situation, including the patient’s right to privacy and effective treatment, their liberty, community safety, the reputations of their treatment team, and the welfare of victims and their families.

There are also the important legal principles of open justice, free expression, and the public’s right to know about the workings of the mental health and criminal justice systems. We will be exploring such issues in our academic publications.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in the Tribunal’s processes you might wish to read the Tribunal’s Official Report of an uncannily similar case (pdf file) it has published on its website using the name “Mr Ephram”.

The prisoner rights advocacy group Justice Action has also applied for, and obtained, permission to name Mr Dezfouli on its website and you can read more about his situation there.

Also, if you search for his name in a web browser you will find some other instances of him being named in the media, although it is unknown whether there were any legal consequences for the outlets which identified him.

(Tom Morton’s ABC Background Briefing program ‘The Man Without A Name’ – 20 April 2014)

———–

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014

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Filed under blogging, citizen journalism, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media, Uncategorized

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