Published on Thursday 23, November 2023


Three-year project finds further evidence that Victoria Police should not act as first responders in a mental health crisis  

MELBOURNE: Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL) has released its findings from a three-year project that investigated the best way to deliver legal support to people experiencing a mental health crisis or psycho-social distress. The project found people often interact with Victoria Police as first responders when experiencing unresolved legal problems that can cause or exacerbate mental ill-health. 

It found embedding legal support within mental health services can create better health and wellbeing outcomes for people. The report also found further evidence that the first response to acute mental health distress callouts should be led by health professionals rather than Victoria Police.   

People diagnosed or living with mental ill health or psycho-social distress are more likely to experience legal issues — including criminalisation. These legal issues can often be left unresolved because people encounter various barriers to accessible and safe support to address those legal issues, which can further exacerbate their condition. 

IMCL’s Director of Legal Practice and the project lead, Molly Williams, said legal assistance services are not designed with the needs and preferences of mental health consumers in mind.  

“Mental health consumers routinely experience the law in contexts of involuntary treatment, punitive justice responses and rights violations,” Ms Williams said. 

“This report establishes a best practice model for how and where to deliver legal assistance to the target client cohort and proposes systemic changes to improve the experience of accessing legal support and interactions with the justice system for mental health consumers. 

“Victoria needs a peer led health response and wraparound support from community services, including lawyers – because a person’s life problems often have a legal solution.” 

The report states the Victorian Government must establish accessible pathways to legal services in a variety of locations within the mental health system, including Emergency Departments (ED), inpatient units, outpatient community mental health services, and within homelessness crisis services. It said access to legal support for mental health consumers in these settings must be designed to enable self-referral, referrals by consumer advocates and peer workers. 

In 2021, the Royal Commission into Mental Health recommended the Victorian Government ensure that, wherever possible, emergency services' responses to people experiencing time-critical mental health crises are led by health professionals rather than police. 

“All major stakeholders agree that Victoria Police should not be first responders, including the police themselves – since the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System and yet there has been no action or progress on the issue,” Ms Williams said.  

“The Victorian Government must implement the Royal Commission into Mental Health recommendations as a matter of urgency, and ensure that in designing a new system, that people with lived experience are at the table. This change can help prevent entrenching people experiencing mental health crisis and distress into justice system via policing and court responses.” 

The Community Legal Mental Health Partnership Project – Final Report was published today and can be found here.  Molly Williams will also be speaking at the Health Justice Australia Conference this afternoon.   


Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL)    

IMCL works for inclusive and safe communities and the full realisation of human rights, which includes advocating for systemic change in many areas including police accountability.    


Media Enquiries    

For further information, or to arrange an interview please contact:    

Nadia Morales 

Director of Strategy, Engagement and Projects  

(03) 9328 1885 (between 9:00am - 2:30pm)   


Connie Agius    

Communications Lead - Inner Melbourne Community Legal   

(03) 9328 1885 (between 2.30pm - 5:00pm)