Wednesday, June 15, 2011

HEALTH: Mental illness and magistrates ...

Is it an essential element of the role of a magistrate that they not have a mental illness of any kind? Including one that is easily treatable?

Former NSW Attorney General Frank Walker doesn't believe so. After all, plenty of elected officials suffer from mental illness, whether they admit it or not. And they are involved in lawmaking and often in executive decisions that affect the nation and that are often enforced by magistrates.

Frank Walker has been a carer for two sons who were both diagnosed with schizophrenia. He lost both to the illness. He knows as well as any carer the stigma attached to the illness.

Magistrate Brian Maloney's own psychiatrist, who first diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, has stated that His Honour is fit to return to work. The Judicial Commission doesn't agree.

In the case of Magistrate Maloney, complaints were not made about his decisions but rather about aspects of his manner.

If Magistrates are hung out to dry for being mentally ill, what message does this send to others in business, politics, professions etc who look forward to the day when they can be open and up front about their mental health?

Here's how the Daily Telegraph reports former Opposition Leader John Brogden's response:

... depression sufferer Mr Brogden, former state Liberal leader while in opposition and now CEO of the Financial Services Council, said mental illness should not prevent someone from being successful in business or public life.

"I am medicated daily and receive regular counselling," Mr Brogden said in the letter to MPs. "My disclosure of this has not prohibited me from leadership roles in business and the community.

"You must, of course, satisfy yourself that Mr Maloney is medically fit.

"From that point, you cannot make a judgment that someone with a mental illness should be barred from judicial office."

I'd like to think our elected officials will show some good sense in this matter.