Nova Scotia's mental health court has growing influence as it hits 10-year mark


Nova Scotia's Dartmouth Wellness Court is celebrating 10 years of existence as its legal approach focused on collaboration rather than conflict continues to spread in the province.

Presiding judge Pamela Williams says the wellness court, originally called the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court, has "grown and matured" and is now reaching more segments of the population.

Williams says the Dartmouth court has expanded to include an opioid court program, an alcohol court program and a judicial monitoring program, which primarily serves marginalized and vulnerable people who live with undiagnosed trauma.

Unlike the adversarial approach taken in the regular court system, the mental health court focuses on collaboration and problem-solving.

The court now has established programs in Port Hawkesbury, Amherst, Kentville and in the Wagmatcook First Nation, while the province is in the process of establishing programs in Truro and Bridgewater.

Since its creation in 2009 1,727 matters have been referred to the Dartmouth Wellness Court's programs involving 1,366 individuals, some of whom have appeared on more than one matter over the years. Ongoing research is yet to produce updated statistics on how many people have graduated from the program.