The first of its kind in Nova Scotia, the goal of the court is to treat Nova Scotians with mental disorders, who commit criminal offences, fairly and compassionately, and to help them improve their mental health to reduce the risk to public safety.
The mission of the Mental Health Court is to enhance public safety and improve the mental health and quality of life of persons with mental disorders, which have contributed to their involvement in the criminal justice system, by assisting them to access treatment and service.
Court participants, in accepting responsibility for their actions which lead to criminal offending, agree to adhere to recommended treatment and supports, enabling them to make positive changes in their lives.
- Reducing the involvement of persons with mental disorders in the criminal justice system thereby addressing public safety concerns;
- Improving health outcomes and quality of life of persons living with mental disorders by increasing their capacity to successfully live in the community; and
- Facilitating access to mental health and social services/supports by connecting, or reconnecting, participants with needed services/supports
Mental Health Court Team
The court is presided over by a judge of the provincial court. Team members include a crown attorney, a Legal Aid defence attorney, a probation officer, forensic psychologists, a social worker, and a psychiatric nurse. Private defence attorneys may also appear on behalf of an individual appearing before the court.
Who is Eligible?
The program is available to adults (18 years and over) who meet the legal and clinical eligibility criteria and who have a substantive connection to the Halifax Regional Municipality. Additionally, the accused must also be competent to participate in the criminal judicial process.
An individual must meet the following criteria in order to participate in the Mental Health Court:
- A criminal charge or charges within the jurisdiction of the provincial court, and
- Consent of the crown of the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court, and
- There is a connection between the criminal behaviour and the mental disorder. This means there is a reasonable probability the mental disorder played a role in the commission of the offence or offences, and
- Acknowledgement of responsibility for the act or omission that forms the basis of the criminal charge or charges
For this program, the term mental disorder means a recognized, significant and persistent mental illness such as schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, bi-polar disorders, major depression, and other mental illnesses that affect or impair judgment.
Individuals who have a developmental delay, organic (acquired) brain injury, or head trauma will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, where the mental disorder is primary, will also be considered.
Potential candidates for the mental health court program can be identified by the crown attorney, defence attorney, police agencies, probation services, community service providers, and/or the judge. An individual may also ask to participate in the program.
What happens in a Mental Health Court?
The following information is a summary of what happens in a mental health court. We are providing key information about the process in order to highlight how the court works. For specific details about each step of the process, please view the Nova Scotia Department of Justice's program overview.
An individual is referred to mental health court program after they are charged with a criminal offence, and after they have made their first appearance in provincial court. The referral is made to the presiding judge, in the court where they made their first court appearance to face charges (the originating court), through either the crown or defence attorney. The judge may then refer the individual to the Nova Scotia mental health court. Following the judge's referral, the individual is given a date for the mental health court which is about two weeks from the date they originally appeared in court.
Mental health clinicians assess the individual to determine the nature and extent of the individual's mental disorder and associated problems. The assessment is a way to determine whether the individual is eligible for the program, and the results form the basis of an individualized support plan for participation in the mental health court plan. The entire mental health court team meets to discuss the individual's situation and makes a decision on their eligibility.
Once accepted into the program, the individual must formally accept responsibility for their offence and agree to work with mental health court team members. The team will develop a support plan in collaboration with the individual, their family and/or support network. The victim or victims of the offence are also invited to participate in the process.
Throughout their time in the program, the individual must regularly appear in court to provide an update on their progress, and they must comply with all requirements. An individual who does not comply with the terms of the mental health court program will have their case returned to regular court.
The most common offences of individuals participating in the mental court program are assaults, thefts, mischief, uttering threats, and breaches of probation orders, undertakings and recognizance.
Visit the Nova Scotia Department of Justice for detailed information about the mental health court program.