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Published on Thursday 12, November 2020

Community Legal Mental Health Partnership Project

In 2018, the Inner Melbourne Community Legal Centre explored a partnership with the Inner-West Police and Clinical Early Response team (PACER) to develop and pilot a model for delivering free legal help to people who come into contact with PACER. The PACER team, comprised of a police member and mental health clinician, provides an on-the-spot clinical assessment of risk for people experiencing a mental health episode.

In 2019, IMCL received a grant of assistance from the Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner, with thanks to the in-principle support of Victoria Police, Melbourne Health and Inner West Area Mental Health Services. With a direct referral pathway to an IMCL Community Legal Mental Health Partnership lawyer, the project aims to assist individuals to lessen the impact of legal issues that exacerbate their mental health crises. Through this, we hope to improve the wellbeing of people with a lived experience of psychiatric or mental health emergencies and their carers. IMCL also believes that early intervention to address consumers’ legal issues has a resulting benefit for co-responders (police and clinicians) by lessening the demands upon them and the health and justice systems.

Initial Project Outcomes

In the first year of the project in 2019, IMCL tested the proposed model of service delivery and furthered our understanding of how to work with first responders and frontline health services to provide legal help to people experiencing a mental health crisis. During this period of initial project implementation, a number of key developments and outcomes were achieved.

We consulted widely with project partners and other stakeholders to understand the barriers to making legal referrals through a stakeholder workshop, and built on this with targeted workforce training to Victoria Police and mental health clinicians. These activities have increased knowledge and identification of legal needs and referral capacity by project partners.

We also investigated the existing referral pathways available to people experiencing mental health crises. Through this and our ongoing legal service provided to patients through Royal Melbourne Hospital and Inner West Area Mental Health, we identified new referral pathways beyond the immediacy of the PACER unit, including inpatient and outpatient units, which we expanded upon in year 2 of the project in 2021 (following an interruption due to COVID-19 in 2020).

In year 2 of the project, IMCL engaged and consulted with mental health consumers to understand their use of services and views about accessing legal help. This was aimed at ensuring that we are building the best model of service delivery, with mental health consumers at the centre. As part of this, an inaugural Mental Health Consumer Advisory Group was established. 

Our Next Steps

These initial outcomes have established a solid project foundation which we will progress in 2022.

In addition to continuing intensive engagement and targeted workforce training with partners, IMCL will broaden its accessibility by trialling triage and assistance services in different clinical contexts beyond solely PACER interactions and aligning our work with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Mental Health to ensure that legal services are included as a core component of a redesigned system.