Queensland Law Society has called for mandatory electronic recording of hearings in the Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT) to guarantee proper access to justice for the community’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
The parliamentary State Development and Regional Industries Committee was today told the MHRT was the only legal jurisdiction – as in a court or tribunal – not currently recording proceedings in accordance with the state’s Recording of Evidence Act 1962.
The failure to do so – according to submissions by QLS – was a denial of natural justice in the areas of “accountability, transparency and the right to due process” for any person appearing before the MHRT.
Members of QLS’s Health and Disability Law (HDL) Committee and Human Rights and Public Law (HRPL) Committee today spoke at a public hearing before the parliamentary committee as it considers changes in the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021.
The Bill, introduced in Parliament by Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath on 1 December 2021, proposes changes to various state laws, including amendments to the Criminal Code Act 1899, Mental Health Act 2016 (MHA), Ambulance Service Act 1991, Environmental Protection Act and the Hospital and Health Boards Act 2011.
The QLS team – comprising HDL Committee Deputy Chair Karen Williams, HRPL Committee Deputy Chair Dr Emma Phillips and policy solicitor Dr Brooke Thompson – spoke in support of a written submission from QLS President Kara Thomson dated 17 January 2022.
Ms Thomson, in her four-page submission, said the Society only sought to make submissions regarding proposed changes to the MHA, including the recording and transcription of all Queensland MHRT proceedings.
“Our comments on the Bill are limited to the proposed changes to the Mental Health Act 2016 (Qld), and we have not considered other parts of the Bill in the time allowed,’’ Ms Thomson said.
“QLS understands from correspondence with the MHRT that its Electronic Audio Recording Project is not able to progress to implementation at this time.
“QLS considers that electronic recording and availability of transcripts to relevant parties across all Queensland courts and tribunals to be a fundamental element of conducting proceedings, and strongly recommends the introduction of a system of electronically recording hearings of the MHRT.”
Under existing laws, all Queensland courts and tribunals are required to electronically record and provide transcripts of proceedings under Section 5(1) of the Recording of Evidence Act 1962.
Ms Thomson said the inclusion of the same requirements for the MHRT was essential to preserving natural justice for all people who appeared before it.
“The issues of accountability, transparency and the right to due process are inextricably linked,” she said.
“In the absence of a system of electronic recording it is difficult for legal practitioners, patients and the MHRT to ensure that these fundamental elements are upheld during a hearing, and in the continuance of a matter where a person continues to appear before the tribunal over time.
“This difficulty is amplified for particularly vulnerable persons who are without legal representation, and who may not be able to effectively recall their previous hearing, including its outcome.”
Ms Thomson also submitted that there be changes to a person’s rights to appeal a MHRT decision.
Read the QLS submission.