Steven's story - access to legal help to focus on medical treatment and rebuilding relationships

Steven* first had contact with mental health services in 2007 after an intentional overdose but it wasn’t until 2021 that he was diagnosed with a mental health condition. Following an incident with his partner in 2022, Steven was charged with intentionally causing injury, recklessly causing injury and common assault. Police also initiated an application for an Intervention Order (IVO) against Steven for the protection of his partner.

He did not have a clear memory of what happened on the evening of the incident. Steven reports not feeling himself on the day of the assault but does not recall what occurred beyond to sitting on a couch with police officers in attendance.  He learned that an alleged assault on his partner had occurred, and he was taken into custody.  He has little memory of what happened next.  

The police assessed that Steven was experiencing a mental health episode and transferred him to hospital for assessment under the Mental Health Act. He was admitted to the John Cade Unit at Royal Melbourne Hospital and placed on an Involuntary Treatment Order. 

Steven’s social worker at John Cade Unit referred him to IMCL after police attended on him in hospital to serve an application and warrant for the IVO, also foreshadowing that he should attend the police station after his discharge to be interviewed in relation to criminal charges. IMCL spoke with Steven to give him legal advice and arranged to represent him the following week at the Magistrates Court for the hearing of the IVO. 

After further contact from police, IMCL gave Steven pre-interview advice to prepare him for attending the police station, where he was subsequently charged with criminal offences arising from the incident. IMCL immediately started to gather medical evidence. Steven’s treating team, with his consent, liaised with IMCL lawyers to provide information regarding his mental state at the time of admission to hospital. 

After reviewing medical evidence about Steven’s hospitalisation which showed that he had been experiencing a deterioration in his mental health in the weeks before the incident, and based on the clinical opinion that he was experiencing a significant episode of mental ill health at the time of the incident which led to his behaviour, his lawyer sought to negotiate with Victoria Police prosecutors to consider withdrawing the charges on the basis of mental impairment. 

Police were unwilling to withdraw the charges over a number of months, despite providing a significant volume of medical material to prosecutions confirming Steven’s mental state, requiring the matter to be adjourned to a contested mention. As a result, IMCL obtained a further psychological report which confirmed the view that he was experiencing a mental impairment at the time of the incident which led to police attendance. 

Ultimately, police accepted the report and withdrew the charges against Steven, and costs were awarded to IMCL. This allowed Steven to focus on his medical treatment and rebuilding his relationships and ensured that he was not criminalised for conduct that occurred whilst he was profoundly unwell.  

*Name has been changed