A Research-Driven Framework for the Western Australian Start Mental Health Court

Magistrate  Felicity Zempilas2, Dr Adam Brett2, Mr Mark Edmunds2, Associate Professor Sarah Murray1, Joe Clare1

1Law School, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia,

2Start Court, Perth Magistrates Court, Perth, Australia

The Perth Start Court, at the Magistrates Court of Western Australia, aims to tackle the overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the WA criminal justice system ‘by addressing their offending behaviour as well as their mental health and psychosocial needs’ (Guidelines 2018: 4). The Start Court is a solution-focused adult mental health court that has been operating since 2013. It is the only full-time mental health court in Australia and provides a pre-sentence court-based intervention program for defendants who are experiencing a mental health issue in a specialist court environment with wrap-around supports including mental health assistance, drug and alcohol expertise and community support as they complete the Court program.

The collaborative conversation brings together the Start Court Magistrate, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Nurse Manager, and legal academics to discuss a project they are working on to develop a research-driven framework for the Start Court.  The calibrated tool will address a broad range of Program outcomes (psycho-social, health and justice related) as well as Program processes and the relationship between outcomes and process. It will adopt a participatory research model which will allow staff and stakeholders to be part of a co-design process. The project will entail qualitative and quantitative dimensions including a survey, a series of workshops, discussions with staff and Program observation.


Magistrate Zempilas

As a lawyer, Felicity Zempilas worked at the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and as Counsel Assisting the State Coroner. Felicity was appointed as a Magistrate in August 2009 and worked in Kalgoorlie until early 2014, hearing matters involving criminal, civil, family and mining law over a broad geographical area. She then worked as a Magistrate in Perth, and, since the beginning of 2017, is the dedicated Magistrate in the Intellectual Disability Diversion Program Court and the Start (Mental Health) Court. She was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2017 to study mental health courts in the United States.

Dr Adam Brett

Consultant Psychiatrist, Start Court, Perth Magistrates Court

Mark Edmunds

Clinical Nurse Manager, Start Court, Perth Magistrates Court

Associate Professor Sarah Murray, UWA Law School

Dr Sarah Murray is an Associate Professor at the University of Western Australia where she researches in the areas of constitutional law and court innovation. She was awarded the Institute for Advanced Studies Distinguished Early Career and Fay Gale Fellowships for her work on Community Justice and her PhD was published as a monograph, The Remaking of the Courts – Less-Adversarial Practice and the Constitutional Role of the Judiciary in Australia (Federation Press, 2014).

Joe Clare, UWA Law School


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