Mental Health and Criminal Law (Trask)

Course Number
LAW 3980
Course Description

This perspective course provides an opportunity for students to explore a wide array of complex issues at the intersection of mental disability and criminal law (and the criminal justice system more generally). Individuals with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities have traditionally been overrepresented in criminal courts and prisons. They have also generally been poorly served by institutions that focus on conventional concepts of moral blameworthiness and punishment.

This course covers a wide range of topics (varying somewhat from year to year), such as: an introduction to mental disorder, intellectual disability, and the criminal justice system; historical overview; the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; causes of and potential responses to criminalization; not criminally responsible (NCR) and unfitness findings and dispositions; Mental Health Courts, Drug Treatment Courts, and similar initiatives; youth, mental disability, and crime; intellectual disability and the justice system; mental disorder in sentencing; prison law (with regard to individuals dealing with mental health issues); concurrent disorders (mental health and substance abuse co-morbidities) or dual diagnoses (mental health problems and intellectual disabilities); personality disorders and criminal law; and recent and potential future criminal justice system reforms.

Students must have previously taken Criminal Law and Procedure. It is strongly recommended that students have also previously taken or are simultaneously enrolled in Evidence.

Teaching Method

This is a seminar course, which will involve group study and discussions. Class discussion (including the asking of questions) is essential to effective learning in this class.


Class Presentation: 15%
Research Paper: 75%
Participation—Attendance: 5%
Participation—In-Class Contribution: 5%

Course Materials

Mandatory text: Hy Bloom & Richard D Schneider, Mental Disorder and the Law: A Primer for Legal and Mental Health Professionals, 2nd ed (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2017)
Optional text: Joan Barrett & Riun Shandler, Mental Disorder in Canadian Criminal Law: 2021 Student Edition (Toronto: Thomson Reuters, 2021)
Supplementary readings will be made available through UM Learn. (Please note that it is the responsibility of students to check for updates to the course portal at least twice weekly.)