Record number of insanity verdicts in New Zealand courts
A record number of Kiwis were found not guilty by reason of insanity in New Zealand courts last year.
The figures released under the Official Information Act show the defence was successfully used by 34 people in 2016, compared with just four in 2000.
The reason behind the rise is unclear, but Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill has urged caution about drawing conclusions around the increase.
"What we know through studies in New Zealand and overseas is that serious offences by people with mental illness can and do occur, but are very rare," Hill said.
* The dementia defence
* Questions over woman's care
* Man who stabbed stranger had killed brother 13 years earlier
* The tragic and violent case of Richard Hawkins
* Insane killers need closer monitoring
In 2016, over 77,000 adults were prosecuted in court, and nearly 13,000 were not convicted for various reasons, including those found not guilty by reason of insanity, Hill said.
"Exaggerated fear about people with mental illness committing offences generates unfair and damaging stigma and discrimination."
Last year, five people charged with murder were found not guilty due to insanity. That included Tevito Filo, 25, the man who viciously attacked and murdered Auckland woman Jo Pert while she was running in Remuera.
It is a judge who usually decides if someone is legally insane based on medical evidence provided by the Crown and defence. Due to legislative changes in 2003, a person is typically deemed insane prior to going to trial.
Those found insane can be admitted as a special patient and placed in the care of a forensic unit for an indefinite period of time.
Victim advocate Ruth Money said it was important for seriously ill people to be rehabilitated in the right way, but the term "not guilty" was wrong.
"The whole not guilty by reason of insanity verdict does not deliver justice for the victim. It may be a legal definition, but it is very offensive to tell that offender they are not guilty."
Mental health foundation CEO Shaun Robinson agreed with Money the language around insanity needed to change.
Being able to care and rehabilitate offenders with severe mental health issues was vital to having a safer community, he said.
"Most importantly forensic services are there to support a person to recover, to participate and be part of the community when they are released. Statistics show this works far better than an ordinary prison situation."
The overall number of people found unfit to stand trial also increased from 126 in 2015 to 145 last year.
- Sunday Star Times