Tag Archives: mental health

Reporting upon forensic mental health cases and identifying patients

By MARK PEARSON

What are the key policy factors influencing courts and tribunals attempting to balance open justice against other rights and interests in newsworthy cases involving forensic mental health patients? 

Associate Professor Tom Morton from UTS, ABC lawyer Hugh Bennett and I examined this question – and the related issue of whether the media could report upon such cases and identify the patients involved – in our recent article in the leading journal in the field, the Journal of Media Law.

Citation: Mark Pearson, Tom Morton & Hugh Bennett (2017): ‘Mental health and the media: a comparative case study in open justice’, Journal of Media Law, DOI: 10.1080/17577632.2017.1375261

Here is our conclusion:

Open justice in mental health proceedings need not be viewed in a vacuum. There are strong parallels with numerous other situations where the legislature and the courts find and apply exceptions to the open justice principle. There is much scope for consistency across Australian jurisdictions and across the many situations where the restrictions are in place because of different vulnerabilities faced by key participants in the court process – mental health patients, children, sexual crime victims, family law parties, protected witnesses and, in two Australian states, even those accused of sexual offences until after the committal stage of proceedings.

There is a strong argument that the courts should be most transparent when the public gaze is so sharply focussed upon them, and that public education about the workings of the justice system in the important area of mental health will be most effective when citizens are intrigued by a particular story and know its background. The courts might acknowledge that in some circumstances a story can be both “interesting to the public” and “in the public interest” – and that perhaps the two notions might not have to be mutually exclusive as Lord Wilberforce so famously suggested.

Full contents of the edition and subscription details can be seen here.

We compared four forensic mental health cases in Australia and the UK and highlighted some of the key competing rights and interests at stake when the news media or other parties seek to have mental health proceedings opened and to identify the patients involved. The approaches of the tribunals and courts we  studied showed the competing policy considerations in such applications were by no means clear-cut. They varied markedly from case to case with regards to the potential impact on the patient and other stakeholders and in their respective public interest value in the stories being told to broader communities. Policies around publicity are complicated when expert psychiatric opinion varies on the potential impact on the mental health and treatment regime for the patient.

The weighing of such important rights and interests is not a precise science where a pre-set formula will apply. Of course, important differences between Australian and UK jurisdictions inform such decisions, including different statutory frameworks for the particular tribunals, together with the lack of a formal human rights framework in Australia, comparable with the European Convention on Human Rights, which affords privacy and free expression rights. In Australia, these considerations draw upon the common law, because there is as yet no actionable tort of privacy invasion and free expression is limited to a High Court-designed implied constitutional freedom of communication with respect to “discussion of government and political matters”. Further, the various mental health tribunals dealing with applications from or regarding forensic patients operate within their own statutory frameworks, rules and practice directions which sometimes bind, and in other circumstances guide, their decisions on whether hearings can be held in public and, if so, whether parties and other participants might be identified.

In Australia alone, the nine jurisdictions have taken a variety of approaches to whether such hearings are held in public and whether parties must be anonymised in any reporting permitted. Open justice can be viewed as a policy continuum, ranging from closed hearings and a total ban on reporting at one end through to open hearings with full identification of parties allowed as part of a fair and accurate report of proceedings at the other. Somewhere in between are attempts to strike a balance between open justice and competing rights and interests with partial permissions; where the public or the media might be admitted to proceedings with a range of conditions placed upon the extent of identification of parties or witnesses allowed.

We developed  this list of key policy factors elicited from the cases reviewed, influencing whether a forensic patient or former patient might be given a public hearing or be identified in proceedings:

  1. Specific legislation, regulations, rules and practice directions relating to privacy and anonymity in hearings involving forensic patients or former patients;

  2. Whether there is informed consent from the patient to identification and publicity of his or her case;

  3. The extent to which a public trial and/or identification impacts upon on the life (ECHR Article 2), ill-treatment (ECHR Article 3), liberty (ECHR Article 5), and other rights, dignity and self respect of patients; including the impact of publicity and identification on their mental health and well being, ongoing treatment, safety and ease of re-entry to the community after treatment/rehabilitation;

  4. The impact of a public hearing or identification upon the right to privacy (ECHR Article 8) of the patient and other participants, and the confidentiality of personal medical details;

  5. The historic principle of open justice (ECHR Article 6): fundamental principles of transparency and justice ‘being seen to be done’, as espoused in Scott v. Scott; the public interest in transparency of mental health processes and proceedings;

  6. Freedom of expression and communication (ECHR Article 10); including the freedom of expression of the media, patients and other participants like hospital and prison personnel;

  7. The public’s right to know: public understanding of the mental health system and its treatment of patients; the public interest in knowing the outcome of highly publicised or emblematic cases; the public interest in knowing of wrongdoing in the mental health system; and the public interest in the safety and security of their communities;  

  8. Impact of identification and publicity upon other parties, including hospital staff, other patients, victims and their families;

  9. Public administration costs (economic and organisational) associated with implementing effective systems of publicity and identification. (For example, hospitals’ and courts’ management of media inquiries, extra costs of security for patient, special accommodation for public hearings, expense of installing video links etc);

  10. Stage of the process – for example, publicity and identification might be allowed on early applications related to conditions while institutionalised, but perhaps refused when re-entry to society is imminent or has already passed;

  11. The track record of the applicant media organisation/s in prior coverage and ethical management of privacy and consent issues, in this and perhaps in other comparable cases; the nature of the proposed program or publication and whether it is likely to be of a professional standard, balanced, accurate, reflective of a range of stakeholder views and sensitive to the patient’s experiences; and the context and focus of the identification of the patient in the media output;

  12. Whether a public hearing and/or identification of a patient might risk stigmatising mental illness.

Full contents of the edition and subscription details can be seen here.


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 2017

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Mental health and the media: a comparative case study in open justice

By MARK PEARSON

Our article comparing Australian and UK restrictions on the reporting of forensic mental health cases has appeared in the leading journal in the field, the Journal of Media Law.

Citation: Mark Pearson, Tom Morton & Hugh Bennett (2017): ‘Mental health and the media: a comparative case study in open justice’, Journal of Media Law, DOI: 10.1080/17577632.2017.1375261

Here is our abstract:

Media reportage about forensic mental health cases raises several competing rights and interests, including the public interest in open justice; a patient’s right to privacy, treatment and recovery; the public’s right to know about mental health tribunal processes; and victims’ and citizens’ interests in learning the longer term consequences of a publicised serious unlawful act. This article details a case study of successful applications for permission to identify a forensic mental health patient in both a radio documentary and in research blogs and scholarly works in Australia. It compares the authors’ experience in this case with three other cases in Australia and the UK, and identifies and weighs the competing policy issues and principles courts or tribunals consider when attempting to balance open justice with the rights and interests of a range of stakeholders in forensic mental health cases where the news media and/or patients are seeking publicity and/or identification.

Full contents of the edition and subscription details can be seen here.

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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 2017

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How to challenge a ban on naming a mental health patient

By MARK PEARSON

UTS colleague Associate Professor Tom Morton, ABC lawyer Hugh Bennett and I will deliver a paper in Melbourne next week on our experiences applying to the Mental Health Tribunal of NSW for permission to name a forensic mental health patient in an ABC documentary and in our academic works.

CMCLlogoforblog19-11-15The occasion is the 2015 IP and Media Law Conference, hosted by the Centre for Media and Communications Law at the University of Melbourne Law School, November 23-24. The full program is here. I plan to blog a few of the highlights of the sessions I attend.

Our paper is titled ‘Mental health and the media: a case study in open justice’ and we present on the first morning of the conference. Here is its abstract:

News and current affairs reportage about forensic mental health cases raises a host of competing interests, including the public’s right to know about mental health tribunal processes; a patient’s right to privacy, treatment, and recovery; and victims’ and the broader community’s interest in learning the longer term consequences of a publicised serious criminal act. This article details a case study of the legal processes involved in applications for permissions to identify a forensic mental health patient in NSW in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National Background Briefing documentary ‘The Man Without a Name’ and in subsequent research blogs and scholarly works including this article. It begins by backgrounding the restrictions on publicising mental health tribunal cases in Australia, summarising the case study, examining the specific restrictions applying to the Mental Health Review Tribunal in NSW, detailing the processes followed in the successful application by the authors to name the patient, comparing the case with Australian and British cases, and making some recommendations for further research and reform.

Tom and I recently co-authored an article on the ethics of that same experience in Pacific Journalism Review, titled ‘Zones of silence: Forensic patients, radio documentary, and a mindful approach to journalism ethics’. Here is our abstract. Full contents of the edition and subscription details can be seen here. Reference: Morton, T. and Pearson, M. (2015). Zones of silence: Forensic patients, radio documentary, and a mindful approach to journalism ethics. Pacific Journalism Review, 21(2), 11-32.

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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 2015

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Zones of silence: Forensic patients, radio documentary, and a mindful approach to journalism ethics

By MARK PEARSON

Congratulations to Pacific Journalism Review editors David Robie, Annie Goldson and Barry King on their newly released special edition ‘Documentary Practice in the Asia-Pacific’.

I was honoured to be invited by research colleague Associate Professor Tom Morton from UTS to co-write an article centred upon the law and ethics behind his ABC Background Briefing documentary ‘The Man Without A Name’, broadcast in 2014. In the article we detail the story behind the documentary and the legal and ethical challenges we faced in navigating the publishing restrictions of the NSW Mental Health Act and some related legislation.

PJR Special Edition vol21(2) OP FINAL CORRECTED 685wide_0

Cover of the special Pacific Journalism Review edition Volume 21 (2)

Here is our abstract:

This article explains a collaborative and critically reflective journalism research project stemming from the wish of an incarcerated forensic mental health patient to be named in public communication about his case. The authors are academics and journalists who embarked upon a combination of journalism, legal processes and academic research to win the right to name Patient A in a radio documentary and in academic works—including this journal article and research blogs. As a case study, it explains the theoretical and ethical considerations informing the journalism and the academic research, drawing upon traditions of documentary production, the principle of open justice and the ethical framework of ‘mindful journalism’. It concludes by drawing lessons from the project that might inform future practitioners and researchers embarking upon works of journalism and research involving vulnerable people and a competing set of rights and public interests.

Full contents of the edition and subscription details can be seen here.

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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 2015

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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)

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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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‘Mindful Journalism’ – the topic of our forthcoming book with Routledge

By MARK PEARSON

THE term ‘mindful journalism’ is a concept I introduced more than a year ago in the inaugural UNESCO World Press Freedom address at AUT University Auckland.

I fleshed it out further in a paper delivered to the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) conference in Dublin in July 2014, which was revised for publication as a forthcoming article in Ethical Space to be published in December.

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Our book preview on the Routledge website

My esteemed colleague, Emeritus Professor Shelton Gunaratne has been working for decades on the intersection between of Buddhism and journalism, and I was honoured to be invited onto a book project he was developing with Sri Lankan colleague Dr Sugath Senarath [pdf file] from the University of Colombo.

We were delighted when Routledge New York accepted our proposal for hard cover publication in March 2015 as part of its Research in Journalism series.

Our book is titled Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach and it features chapters by several scholars from Asia, North America, Australia and Europe.

As outlined in the publisher’s synopsis:

“This book aims to be the first comprehensive exposition of “mindful journalism”—drawn from core Buddhist ethical principles—as a fresh approach to journalism ethics. It suggests that Buddhist mindfulness strategies can be applied purposively in journalism to add clarity, fairness and equity to news decision-making and to offer a moral compass to journalists facing ethical dilemmas in their work. It comes at a time when ethical values in the news media are in crisis from a range of technological, commercial and social factors, and when both Buddhism and mindfulness have gained considerable acceptance in Western societies. Further, it aims to set out foundational principles to assist journalists dealing with vulnerable sources and recovering from traumatic assignments.”

My chapter on ‘The Journalist and Mental Cultivation’ addresses the application to journalism of the final three steps of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path – the mental cultivation (or concentration) dimension of the magga; namely Right Effort (samma vayama), Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Right Concentration (samma samadhi).

The section on Right Effort calls for journalists to apply a steady, patient and purposeful path to the achievement of ethical practice. It suggests the need for an effort to find and implement sound perspectives and practices that one lacks and to shore up those that one already possesses.

The section on Right Mindfulness explains how journalists might take time out of a stressful situation to focus upon breathing; to pause to meditate upon the rationale for pursuing a story in a certain way, to weigh implications of reportage on stakeholders and to find peace for strategic planning and clarifying context for one’s role and career trajectory.

The section on Right Concentration compares the phenomenon the expression “grace under fire” that is required of consummate professionals in the midst of covering a major news event. It is at this time that top journalists actually enter “the zone” and are able to draw on core ethical values and ingrained professional skills to report within deadline.

The chapter offers several examples from journalism to illustrate the approach and suggests techniques that can be implemented in a secular way by journalists from a range of cultural and religious backgrounds to enhance their ethical practice and the public significance of their reportage.

We are excited at the potential for the project – particularly in a period when journalists and bloggers are accused of having lost their ‘moral compass’ – and we are on track to submit all chapters within the publisher’s October 1 deadline.

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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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Court restrictions on identifying children in Australia – a guide for journalists

By MARK PEARSON

We have removed the comparative reporting restrictions tables from the  fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2014) which will be published later this year.

Co-author Mark Polden and I have decided to move these comparative tables on reporting restrictions throughout Australia across to this blog – journlaw.com – so we could free up space in the new edition to discuss other important issues such as media law for public relations consultants and the implications of digital and social media.

We will work to update the reporting and publishing restrictions tables over coming months, but for the moment I am publishing them as they stood at the date of our fourth edition in 2011.

As I upload them over coming weeks I would appreciate any students or colleagues using the comments section below to advise of any updates in your jurisdictions and I will act to update the tables accordingly.

Looking forward to your collaborative input!

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Restrictions on reports of proceedings involving children

Note: NO identification of parties or witnesses in any way under the Commonwealth Family Law Act s. 121.

Jurisdiction Law  Exceptions  Legislation 
ACT  Reports of proceedings: Media allowed to report. ID: Cannot be identified. Cannot publish account of family group conference— None mentioned.  Criminal Code 2002, s. 712A. Children and Young People Act 2008, s. 77. 
NSW Reports of proceedings: Media allowed to stay and report. ID: No ID of child mentioned or otherwise involved (including victims and witnesses) living or dead, during or after proceedings, or their siblings.— Court may close proceedings. Court may allow ID or children aged 16 or over can authorise.(Seek legal advice on this.) Or senior next of kin or court (if deceased).

 

Children (Criminal Proceedings)Act 1987, s. 15A; Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998, ss. 104 and 105; Young Offenders Act 1997, s. 65. 
NT  Reports of proceedings: Open court and reports allowed. ID: No restriction.— Magistrate may close court or order suppression.  Youth Justice Act 2005, ss. 49, 50. 
Qld  Reports of proceedings: No. ID: No ID of child accused without court’s permission. No ID of child witness in sexual matter. ID of child witness okay in other matters unless ordered otherwise. Cannot ID authorised officer or police officer in matters with child witnesses. No ID info about child victims. No ID of children subject to allegations of harm or risk of harm or in state custody or guardianship.— Judge may order publication of identifying information for heinous crimes. Court can permit reporting when otherwise prohibited.Child victim can consent after becoming adult if fully informed of publication matter, audience and reason. Youth Justice Act 1992, ss. 234, 301. Child Protection Act 1999, ss. 189, 192, 193. 
SA  Reports of proceedings: Court open to ‘genuine representatives of news media’. No family care proceedings reports. ID: No ID of child parties, witnesses or victims,or other persons other than in official capacity without their permission, including name, address or school. Documentaries may be approved under strict conditions.— Courts can authorise some reports and ID.  Youth Court Act 1993, s. 24; Young Offenders Children’s   Protection Act 1993, s. 59, Children’s Protection Act 1993, s. 13; 59A. 
Jurisdiction  Law  Exceptions  Legislation 
Tas Reports of proceedings: No provision for media to be present without permission of court. ID: No ID of youths or youth witnesses.— Permission of court.  Youth Justice Act 1997, ss. 30, 31; Magistrates Court (Children’s Division) Act 1998, ss. 11, 12. 
Vic Reports of proceedings: Open court and media allowed to report. ID: No identification of child accused or any witnesses to case. No mention of court venue. Long list of banned ID particulars for children and witnesses including: name, title, pseudonym, alias of the person, home or work address or localit0, school or locality; physical description or style of dress; occupation or calling; relationship to identified others; interests or beliefs; real or personal property. No photos.— Permission of court.  Children, Youth and Families Act   2005, ss. 523, 534. 
WA  Reports of proceedings: Yes ID: No ID on child involved in proceedings in any way. No ID of child subject of a protection application or order.— Court can exclude persons. Supreme Court can authorise ID of child.  Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988, ss. 31, 35, 36, 36A. Children and Community Services Act 2004, s. 234 

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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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