Mental Health Legal Centre Inc.

Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System in Victoria


Many laws apply to all people who are involved in the criminal justice system but there are some laws that have been made specifically to protect people who have a mental illness.   

People with a mental illness are more likely than most people to come into contact with the police and the courts. This may or may not mean that they have committed a crime. It is estimated that at least 70% of people in prison have experienced mental illness. If you are aware of your rights you will be in a better position to protect yourself as you progress through the criminal justice system.


MHLC recommends The Law Handbook Online for up-to-date information about rights of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system. The Law Handbook is a free, easily accessible online legal resource published by Fitzroy Legal Service. You can find relevant information about the rights of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system in Chapter 3.1 'Disability and the Criminal Justice System' and also Chapter 16.4 'Psychiatric disability'.


The Law Handbook contains information about:

  • Mental illness
  • Police powers
  • Diversion programs and the Assessment and Referral Court at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court
  • The defence of mental impairment
  • Sentencing if you are found guilty
  • Your rights on mental health system orders
  • Appeals against decisions of courts


If you have a specific legal problem, the MHLC always recommends you seek legal advice from a lawyer about how the law applies to you and what your options are.


Defence of Mental Impairment

'Not guilty because of mental impairment' for criminal offence in the Magistrates' Court.

The law says that mental illness and some other conditions may be mental impairments giving you a defence to criminal charges at court. If you think your charges might be affected by a mental impairment, see a lawyer and get some advice.

There must be a strong connection between the criminal charge and your mental illness.


Download a PDF flyer about Mental Impairment as a Criminal Defence in the Magistrates' Court:

Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria

Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria
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