Jason Szczepek inquest highlights need for coronial law reform

The inquest into the death of Jason Szczepek highlights the need for reform of laws which restrict coroners from fully investigating the circumstances of a death, said the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Ms Robin Banks.

PIAC represented Jason Szczepek’s mother, Marilyn Lewis, during the inquest into her son’s death. The inquest findings, released today in Sydney, note the difficulties mentally ill people such as Jason have in living a meaningful existence in a society that stigmatises mental illness.

Jason died by suicide in May 2006 after being discharged against his wishes from Sutherland Hospital’s psychiatric unit. He had attempted to commit suicide at least once before, but despite his deteriorating mental condition he remained under the care of the Sutherland community mental health team.

‘The Coroner was critical of aspects of Jason’s care leading to his death,’ Ms Banks said.

‘PIAC agrees with comments by the Coroner that there are limitations in the way the criminal justice system deals with mentally ill people such as Jason.

‘But we are disappointed that the Coroner was not able to make broader recommendations about the need for systemic change to enhance suicide prevention.’

Ms Banks said Jason’s death highlights the need alternative forms of hospitalisation for people who are in an acute phase of their mental illness.

‘In NSW, coroners are restricted from investigating all the circumstances of a death such as Jason’s. This needs to change.

‘If the Coroner had the power to investigate all the circumstances of Jason Szcepek’s death, he would have been able to make recommendations about Jason’s interaction with the criminal justice system and his consequent treatment in Sutherland in the months before his death,’ Ms Banks said.

MEDIA CONTACT: Dominic O’Grady, Media and Communications Officer,

Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Ph: 02 8898 6532 or 0400 110 169

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