A magistrate has ordered former parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper to stand trial on allegations of fraud, despite mental health concerns.
Former parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper should seek help if he needs it, but severe depression will not excuse him from standing trial on allegations of defrauding taxpayers, a magistrate says.
The ACT Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday heard evidence that Slipper’s life has spiralled into one of despair as a result of criminal allegations, with feelings of isolation and social withdrawal.
In 2013 he twice attempted suicide, the court was told.
Lawyers for the 64-year old argued that because of his state of mind legal proceedings against him should be dismissed under the Mental Health Act.
While Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker found Slipper suffers from a “major depressive disorder”, she added that for the sake of public interest the case must go ahead.
“I’m satisfied that it is more appropriate that the matter go to trial.”
Slipper denies allegations that on three occasions in 2010, before he became Speaker, he misused Commonwealth CabCharge vouchers valued at more than $900 while visiting wineries nearby Canberra.
If convicted, Slipper faces up to a year in prison and fines that could total $10,000.
Despite involving a “small” amount of commonwealth money, Ms Walker said the allegations against Slipper carried a high level of public interest.
“The defendant held one of the most significant positions of trust in the country.”
Slipper is a former Queensland Nationals and Liberal MP, and served in parliament for two decades.
But he now finds himself unemployed having unsuccessfully stood as an independent for his seat of Fisher at the 2013 federal election.
Psychiatrist Christopher Martin gave evidence that Slipper has suffered relationship and financial problems, battled alcoholism and made repeat visits to mental health facilities.
Prosecutor Lionel Robberds dismissed claims that mental health issues prevented Slipper answering the charges.
He argued that Slipper has remained capable of instructing his legal team and even issued a press release the day after one of his reported suicide attempts.
Citing former British prime minister Winston Churchill, Ms Walker said there are many examples of high-functioning individuals who have concurrently struggled with mental illness.
After making her ruling, the magistrate spoke directly to Slipper, urging him to seek help if he experiences feelings of desperation.
“The court is very concerned about the way you’ve been feeling,” Ms Walker said.
She added that he is not a “pariah” of the court and that the case against him is still to be proved.
Slipper, who has previously failed in a bid to secure a stay in proceedings citing parliamentary privilege, left court without speaking to media.
A seven-day trial for Slipper is set down for July.
* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78