Mental Health Court
The Edmonton Mental Health Court (MHC) program helps address the overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the justice system by focusing on underlying mental health problems that often contribute to repeated criminal behaviour.
The MHC is available for adults (aged 18 years or older) who have been charged with a criminal offence and have an ongoing mental health issue that affects or impairs judgment. Individuals with a brain injury or head trauma, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in some cases, and those with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression will also be considered.
Admission to the MHC is based the following criteria:
- There must be a reasonable basis to believe that an accused has a brain injury, neurological deficit such as FASD, mental illness or mental disorder;
- There must be a reasonable basis to believe that there is a relevant connection between the mental health condition of the accused and the alleged criminal offence;
- The accused must consent and be motivated to participate in MHC; and
- The alleged criminal offence must not be subject to exclusion under the MHC criteria*. (Excluded offences include murder; drug prosecutions, unless a federal prosecutor consents; prosecution handled by Special Prosecutions; breaches of long term offender orders or of certain peace bonds.)
*Cases involving domestic violence usually do not qualify.
Only a Judge can formally refer accused persons to the MHC, but counsel can recommend a referral at any stage, based on their own observations or based on input from others such as police, a Justice of the Peace or family members
The MHC functions like any other court in that the Crown and Defence counsel generally determine what information is placed before the Judge and counsel make recommendations to the Judge as to how a matter should be dealt with. However, this court differs from conventional courts based on an adversarial model. This court takes a more collaborative approach and enjoys extra resources to help the court identify and address the issues underlying the criminal behaviour. In addition to Crown and Defence counsel, there is a mental health worker in the court, a social worker/navigator is available to help accused persons access resources in the community and navigate the system, and a psychiatrist is in regular attendance.
The MHC sits weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Edmonton Law Courts.