Long Bay battle: Analysis of law/history

Wilful disregard of the law and history

The actions of Justice Health and the Attorney General in implementing the extended lockdown of forensic patients at Long Bay, wilfully disregards the law, undertakings given in Parliament and the lessons of history.


• PREMIER IEMMA PERSONALLY INVOLVED (47K) In an answer to a question by Lee Rhiannon MP in the NSW Legislative Council on 19 October 2004, the Premier when he was Minister for Health assured Parliament that when the Forensic Hospital at Long Bay was built, ‘The quality of the health service provided will improve’.
In light of the comments by expert forensic psychiatrists and peak mental health bodies universally condemning the practice of early lockdowns, there will clearly be deterioration and not an improvement in the services.


 • SCOTT SIMPSON INQUEST DAMNING FINDINGS The lessons of history have been ignored. Media reports. A classic example is the case of Scott Simpson who was placed in segregation after killing a fellow inmate during an acute psychotic episode in 2002. During his segregation he took his own life after four separate attempts over a 2 year period. The Deputy State Coroner, Dorelle Pinch in her findings, attacked the government for its treatment of him and in particular the practice of keeping mentally ill patients in segregation. This she said, led directly to Simpson taking his own life. Coroner Pinch went on to make a number of findings and a number of directions including:
‘The NSW Department of Corrective Services should adopt the policy that inmates diagnosed with a mental illness should be placed in segregation only in exceptional circumstances and for a limited period’.
Why are Justice Health and the Attorney General ignoring her directions and failing to take heed of the lessons of history so apparent from this tragic episode?

Scott was our personal friend to whom we owe an obligation. We shared a cell with him and found him a respected staunch fellow with good spirit. He made lots of mistakes but he stood up for himself. He was targetted, beaten and isolated over many years until he became mentally ill. We stayed in contact with him and his mum during the whole period before his death, tried to get help to him in the HRMU through PIAC and others, but noone had the power and the interest. His letters tell his story.

Scott's inquest showed firstly the callous indifference of Corrective Services and Justice Health to his or others' suffering. As psychiatrist Dr Lewin told the inquest (rpt p.11) he threatened to call the Minister for Health personally over Scott's treatment but it made no difference. Although Scott had been regarded as being so mentally ill that he was listed for the sickest ward, and a threat to himself and others, he was put into a cell with a convicted paedaphile who was on special protection on 30/3/02. This was in breach of their own rules. It was widely seen as an intended punishment to the paedophile but within fifteen minutes Scott killed him.

Justice Health and Corrective Services then refused Scott any access to the hospital, locked him in solitary confinement in the HRMU contrary to their own guidelines and ignored psychiatrists' pleadings. During the inquest the Coroner disbelieved the evidence of Justice Health and Corrective Services, using terms like "dubious" and damned their behaviour. She laid down recommendations for changes to occur.

The move to increase seclusion of the mental patients is effectively a decision by Corrective Services with Justice Health connivance to create prison-like conditions in the mental hospital. This was precisely the point on which the Coroner was so concerned - the need to give proper mental health support to vulnerable patients such as Scott Simpson.

The decision at Long Bay has been taken by the same Minister Hatzistergos and Commissioner Woodham to whom the Coroner directed her recommendations. See above media reports.


• UNITED NATIONS OBLIGATIONS Article 12 of the UN’s International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights to which Australia is a signatory recognises ‘the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health’.
The extended lockdown at Long Bay wilfully disregards this very important commitment Australia has made, by retreating from rather than aspiring to the highest standards of care.
As well, Principle 9 of UN resolution 4619 entitled ‘Principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and the improvement of mental health care’ adopted by Australia on 17 December 1991, states ‘Every patient shall have the right to be treated in the least restrictive environment and with the least restrictive or intrusive treatment…’. Locking forensic patients down for extended periods is a mockery of this Principle.


• OBLIGATIONS OF JUSTICE HEALTH Section 72A of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999, requires Justice Health to preserve the mental health of an inmate not cause it to deteriorate;


• BURDEKIN REPORT (731k) The practice of the early lockdown of forensic patients at Long Bay and the refusal by Justice Health and the Attorney General to contemplate a change in direction means that the words of Brian Burdekin in his landmark Inquiry into the Human Rights of People With Mental Illness’ in 1993 (at page 803), ring stronger now than ever:
‘… the human rights abuses currently being committed against people affected by mental illness in remand and correctional facilities cannot be allowed to continue. Australia has undertaken to honour certain standards clearly set out in a range of international instruments – and these obligations must be honoured’. They must be honoured because they are right, fair and decent and must not be discarded. To do so particularly in the name of cost cutting, compromises some of the most important principles in our society.


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