Greater recognition of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) within the court system in Marlborough

Courts system in Marlborough headed to the right direction when it comes to dealing with defendants with FASD reports  Judges and lawyers are changing the way they communicate to help mentally impaired defendants navigate the justice system.


Youth Court Judge Tony Fitzgerald

Youth Court Judge Tony Fitzgerald said awareness of neurological disabilities, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, was increasing within the justice system.

Two Blenheim grandparents caring for grandchildren with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder came forward in September calling for greater recognition of the condition, which is not recognised as a disability by the Ministry of Health.

Paraparaumu grandmother Eleanor Bensemann also sought help for her grandson Daniel Bensemann, 19, who lived on the streets in Blenheim after being released from secure care.

Fitzgerald said the number of people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder appearing before the courts was not changing, but it was being identified more.

“It’s only been in recent years that this awareness has developed.

“As soon as you start assessing for it and looking for it, it’s there.”

Each Youth Court in New Zealand had a forensic service that screened for and assessed mental illness and impairment, Fitzgerald said.

Studies in Canada found about 25 per cent of the population in the country’s youth prisons had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Although there was no comparable research on the prevalence of the disorder in the New Zealand justice system, Fitzgerald said the experts he had talked to believed New Zealand rates would be similar to those overseas.

During the past 10 years, the majority of defendants who raised an argument about fitness to stand trial did not meet the criteria for mental illness or intellectual disability despite having a significant mental impairment.

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Disclaimer:  The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.

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