Psych Matters

Fighting for their lives

March 04, 2022 RANZCP
Psych Matters
Fighting for their lives
Show Notes

The execution of individuals with mental disorder is prohibited by international law, such that the presence of mental disorder, and how it is dealt with during the investigatory or trial and sentencing process, may render a conviction legally unsafe.  Although legal principles designed to protect those with mental disorder from the death penalty are not in dispute, for them to operate mental health professionals must be both equipped with relevant clinico-ethico-legal expertise and be prepared to engage in the process. Engaging in such cases represents the most extreme focus of the usual clinical, legal and ethical issues involved in all evaluations for criminal courts. Crucial to not avoiding engagement in such cases must be the recognition that they do not raise ‘different’ issues for forensic practitioners but merely offer extreme representations of those issues. 

Dr Jay Sarkar is a Consultant with Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, Forensicare and Spectrum Personality Disorder Service, Melbourne. He was previously an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Singapore. He has a particular interest in capital cases and provided expert testimony in over 100 cases and counting. His testimony has helped prevent deaths of many. 

Dr Danny Sullivan is a UK and Australian-trained forensic psychiatrist, currently Executive Director of Clinical Services of Forensicare, the statewide Victorian forensic mental health service. He has provided expert evidence in criminal matters in may jurisdictions for 20 years. Over recent years he has been involved with the Capital Punishment Justice Project and Project 39A, providing training to clinicians and the judiciary in India to address access to mental health assessment, treatment, and expert evidence for those subject to the death penalty.

Associate Professor John Kasinathan
Consultant Forensic, Child, Adolescent and Generalist Psychiatrist
Conjoint Associate Professor, UNSW Medicine
Clinical Director Adolescent Mental Health, Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network, NSW Health
Medical Director Adolescent and Young Adult Program, Northside Clinic St Leonards


  • CPJP – Standing for a world without the death penalty
  •  Project 39A — Deathworthy 
  • Ashford J and Kupferberg M (2013) Death Penalty Mitigation: A Handbook for Mitigation Specialists, Investigators, Social scientists and Lawyers.  Oxford University Press, New York
  • DeMatteo D, Murrie D, Anumba N and Keesler M (2011) Forensic Mental Health Assessments in Death Penalty Cases. Oxford University Press, New York
  • Eastman N, Krljes S, Latham R and Lyall M (2018) Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases, Second Edition, Death Penalty Project, London.

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