ACT News

Murder case 'cries out' for secure mental health facility

Lawyers for a young woman accused of murdering her mother have lashed out at the ACT's lack of a secure mental health facility, saying their client is languishing behind bars without proper treatment.

Gabriela Woutersz, 24, appeared visibly distressed and cried when her case appeared before the ACT Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

The accused: Gabriela Woutersz arrives at court last year in the back of a police van on Saturday.
The accused: Gabriela Woutersz arrives at court last year in the back of a police van on Saturday. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The court is preparing to commit her for trial for allegedly killing Norma Cheryl Woutersz, 56, at their Dunlop home.

Her mother was found dead with her arms and feet bound with rope in the backyard of the family home last October.

Allegedly murdered Canberra mother Norma Woutersz.
Allegedly murdered Canberra mother Norma Woutersz. 

Serious injuries had been inflicted to her head. 

Woutersz was immediately sent for mental health checks after her arrest and first appearance in court last year. 


She has now spent roughly three months in custody at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, something her barrister Bernard Collaery lamented on Tuesday. 

Mr Collaery said there was no proper treatment plan for Woutersz, and said she could not receive proper care or undergo the necessary testing at the prison.

"This territory has no secure mental health facility," Mr Collaery said.

"This is a case that again cries out for that need."

"She shouldn't just languish there while we get to a committal."

The ACT government first promised such a facility in 2008.

It has recently fast-tracked plans for such a facility, which is to be built in Symonston on the site of the former Quamby youth detention centre.

The 25-bed unit will house low to medium-security patients who pose a real risk of violence, aggression, or self-harm. 

It is expected to be completed in 2017.

Critics have long cried out for a secure mental health facility to fill the gap between prison and other mental health services in the ACT. 

The lack of a secure unit has left many inmates with mental health issues stuck in the AMC, which only has a small crisis support unit meant for short-term care.

Judges and magistrates have long called for a secure facility, and former ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Terence Higgins described its absence as "unacceptable" during a speech in 2012.

Human Rights Commissioner Helen Watchirs and Public Advocate Anita Phillips have also pressured the government on the issue.

Woutersz's case will return to the ACT Magistrates Court in April.