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Call for trained judicial officials to protect rights of UTPs with mental health issues

There is an urgent need to have specialised forensic psychiatrists in every district of Pakistan to assist the judicial system and officials in dealing with mentally ill people, who are often mistreated, penalised and even killed even before facing trials for committing cognizable offences without having any intention, national and international experts said on Friday.

They said that following the promulgation of the Sindh Mental Health Act 2013 and the constitution of a provincial mental health authority, there was an urgent need to sensitise and train judicial officials, including judges, lawyers, police officials, about mental health issues so that the rights of under-trial prisoners with mental illness could be protected.

National and international mental health experts, including European, American and Pakistani psychiatrists, were of the opinion that mental health disorders are on the rise in society and sometimes people having serious mental health issues under the influence of delusions and hallucinations make false claims or commit acts which are not only against the norms of society but are also cognizable offences. In these cases, they said, people should have the right to undergo assessment by some trained, qualified forensic psychiatrists.

They were speaking at a two-day international conference on “Strengthening the Interface between Criminal Justice System and Mental Health System”, organised by the Pakistan Psychiatric Society (PPS) in collaboration with the School of Forensic Mental Health, National Health Services (NHS), Scotland, at the Sindh Judicial Academy, Karachi.

The international conference was addressed by forensic psychiatrists and experts from the NHS Scotland, the United States and the Department of Psychiatry of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), while additional session judges, magistrates, lawyers, bar association representatives, police officials, armed forces’ personnel and journalists attended the training and discussed how to deal with offenders with intellectual disabilities in Pakistan and the rest of the world.

Speaking at the concluding session of the conference, Director General Sindh Judicial Academy Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar said the Sindh Mental Health Act 2013 is relatively a new law and a special subject that deals with the rights and issues of mentally sick offenders and there is a need to discuss this law with the mental health experts so that legal fraternity could understand the issue of mental health.

He maintained that this type of trainings would not only benefit the judges, lawyers and other people associated with the justice system, but also people with mental issues would be benefitted as their rights would be protected. He added that such trainings should continue with the help of societies like the Pakistan Psychiatric Society (PPS) and other national and international mental health institutions.

Justice Mazhar said several constitutional petitions are filed in the Sindh High Court (SHC) for the implementation of provincial laws, and when a CP was filed with him, he ordered in May 2018 that the government should immediately provide funds to the Sindh Mental Health Authority so that it could be made functional. He added that in this way, he also contributed to the implementation of the mental health act of the province, which would benefit the intellectually-disabled people.

Justice Mazhar said forensic psychiatry trainings would help both judges and lawyers to distinguish between genuine patients having mental health issues and impersonators. He hoped that they would use the training during their professional life.

President Pakistan Psychiatric Society (PPS) Prof Iqbal Afridi said several serious offences are committed by mentally sick patients, who often have no intention of committing a cognizable offence or don’t even know if they are committing any crime, but due to lack of training, police

officials, lawyers and even judges treat them as hardened criminals.

“In some instances, some people are charged with blasphemy for making comments and claims, but often these people are mentally-sick patients who have delusions and hallucinations like the patients of schizophrenia and some other disorders. These patients need treatment and protection instead of prosecution and persecution.”

Prof Afridi maintained that they were trying to train Pakistani psychiatrists in forensic psychiatry so that they could help the judicial officials and the system in effectively dealing with the mentally sick patients, saying the international conference was part of this effort, which would continue in the coming days.

An eminent forensic psychiatrist from the School of Forensic Mental Health, NHS, Scotland, Dr Khurram Khan conducted the two-day conference and discussed case scenarios where mentally sick patients should undergo psychiatric evaluation, and, if found unfit for trial, they should be referred to mental health institutions and correction facilities.

The issues discussed during the conference were acts of suicide, blasphemy, child molestation and some other cognizable offences, which are sometimes committed by people with mental health disorders, but they are treated as hardened criminals without looking at their mental health condition. The conference was also addressed by Valerie Khan, executive director of the Group Development Pakistan, Chairman Sindh Mental Health Authority Dr Karim Khawaja, Robin Mahar from the United States, Natalie Bordon from the NHS Scotland, Patricia Cowthorne and Helen Walker from University of Scotland.

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