Lynne Coulson Barr

Senior Fellow – Australia

Lynne Coulson Barr is the inaugural Mental Health Complaints Commissioner in Victoria, Australia, a statutory appointment under the Victorian Mental Health Act 2014.

About Lynne Coulson Barr

Lynne Coulson Barr is the inaugural Mental Health Complaints Commissioner in Victoria, Australia, a statutory appointment under the Victorian Mental Health Act 2014. The act provides broad powers to investigate and resolve complaints and disputes about treatment and care in public mental health services. This position is unique to Australia, and was created as part of mental health legislative reforms to provide 1) a specialist 2) an accessible process for people with mental illness and their families and 3) a way to resolve complaints about their experiences with mental health services, through informal and formal dispute resolution processes, including statutory conciliation.

Through her work as Mental Health Complaints Commissioner and her previous role as Deputy Disability Services Commissioner, Dr. Coulson Barr has pioneered approaches that improve access and participation of people with disabilities and mental health issues, along with support for families and caregivers, in complaint resolution processes. She has demonstrated her commitment to working with people accessing mental health and disability services, families, caregivers, and services to ensure that complaints are resolved in ways that safeguard peoples’ rights and support their recovery, and are seen as opportunities to improve services for all Victorians.

Dr. Coulson Barr has promoted a focus on increasing the accessibility of complaint resolution processes and safeguarding the rights of people with mental health issues and disabilities among statutory bodies dealing with complaints about discrimination and health and disability services, with many of these bodies seeking her counsel on resolution models and approaches to safeguarding people’s rights. She has also contributed to the development and review of complaint handling standards and practice guides in Australia, and provided training on effective responses to complaints.

In recognition of her significant contribution to social justice in the Victorian community, Dr. Coulson Barr was welcomed into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in March 2014. She works to promote mental health and prevention of violence in her role as Ambassador for their Alumni and Ambassadors program.

Mediation Practice

Dr. Coulson Barr specializes in statutory mediation and conciliation processes involving people with mental illness and disabilities, and their service providers.

She was accredited as a mediator and conciliator through the National Mediator Accreditation Scheme in Australia.

ADR Achievements and Training

  • In 2013, Dr. Coulson Barr was awarded a Weinstein JAMS International Fellowship to study international approaches to accessible and effective dispute resolution, and has completed doctoral research on statutory conciliation and complaint processes.
  • Since completing her 2013 Weinstein Fellowship, Dr. Coulson Barr was appointed as the first Mental Health Complaints Commissioner in Victoria, Australia, after serving for seven years as Deputy Commissioner with the Victorian Disability Services Commissioner.
  • In 2016, Dr. Coulson Barr completed her Doctorate of Juridical Science (Law) on Decision making on the suitability of disputes for statutory conciliation: Enabling appropriate access, particularly for people with disabilities. This doctorate drew on the knowledge and contacts she made through the study tour she undertook in the U.S. through her Weinstein Fellowship.
  • Dr. Coulson Barr has developed and provided education and training on approaches to dispute resolution, which maximizes the participation of people with disabilities and mental health issues. These approaches include: process design and objectives, use of communication tools and aides, involvement of support people, and safeguards for people’s rights.

Publications and Education


Of note is the pivotal paper authored by Dr. Coulson Barr in 2012 on Safeguarding people’s right to be free from abuse: key considerations for preventing and responding to alleged staff to client abuse in disability services, which continues to be a key resource published by the Disability Services Commissioner. This work was informed by an inquiry she led into the adequacy of responses to alleged staff to client abuse in disability services.

In 2018, in her role as Mental Health Complaints Commissioner, Dr. Coulson Barr produced a major report highlighting the need to address the significant issue of breaches of sexual safety experienced by consumers of mental health services, titled The right to be safe – ensuring sexual safety in acute mental health inpatient units: sexual safety project report. The report’s findings and the recommendation to develop a comprehensive strategy to address this issue is now informing a number of actions and initiatives being undertaken by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Chief Psychiatrist, and mental health services.   

Educational Qualifications

  • Doctor of Juridical Science (Law) (2016)
  • Master of Social Work, Monash University, Victoria, Australia (1995)
  • Bachelors of Social Work and Arts, Monash University, Victoria, Australia (1980)

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