By section 32 of the Mental Health Act, someone with a developmental disability, mental illness or mental condition can be diverted from the criminal justice system and given rehabilitative treatment ordered by the courts.
According to Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, four million Australians have mental health problems and 65 per cent of them have no access to treatment whatsoever. One million of those with mental disorders are young Australians aged 12 to 25.
The Attorney General has identified trends indicating a substantial increase in the numbers of people with a mental illness who come before the courts.
If a court order is made in accordance with this section of the law, there is no finding of guilt, the charge is dismissed without conviction, and the applicant is discharged conditionally or unconditionally.
In many cases, it produces a better outcome for a person than a penalty imposed in accordance with the law, though it can have more onerous consequences, since an order can substantially limit someone's freedom.
While treatment can be helpful, particularly for young people, it is challenging to identify those eligible for this care, obtain good expert services to make a diagnosis and prepare a report, establish links with treatment providers and, ultimately, persuade a magistrate to use the legislation.