Guidance for prosecutors on dealing with defendants with mental health issues has been updated to reflect growing understanding of different conditions, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced today.
The revised guidance is designed to assist decision making throughout the life of a criminal case, from the initial decision to prosecute, through fitness to plead to sentencing. It has been developed to understand changes in the mental health landscape such as diversion services, and community concerns about the impact on the criminal justice system.
A consultation has now been launched so that the views of the public, charities, and health and legal professionals can be considered further before the guidance is finalised.
Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “It is no surprise that dealing with mental health issues is an everyday feature of life in the criminal justice system so I’m determined that the CPS leads the way in ensuring that we treat this issue with the importance and sensitivity that it deserves.
“When mental health is a factor in a case, our lawyers must weigh up whether prosecution is the right approach, or whether there’s another way to protect society. Every case must be decided on its specific facts, and it’s essential that prosecutors have clear guidance as they make these complex decisions.
“It’s important that we get this right, and I look forward to hearing from both experts and the public on this new guidance.”
A random sample of nearly 400 cases across England and Wales found that one in five involved a defendant, victim or witness with a mental health issue.
Key information included in the draft guidance includes:
• information for prosecutors about different types of mental health conditions, and their clinical presentation;
• consideration of the admissibility of confessions where a suspect has a mental health issue;
• potential legal defences a defendant may have for offences, including reasonable belief in self-defence for violent offences, and automatism, where a person loses control of their body;
• information about potential community treatments or non-criminal justice diversions for some low-level defendants with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, as well as autistic spectrum disorders and learning disabilities.
• the use of reasonable adjustments to support effective participation by defendants with mental health issues, for example, allowing them to use special measures, such as giving evidence from behind a screen to help alleviate anxiety.
The CPS has separate guidance to support victims and witnesses with mental health issues through the criminal justice system.
The consultation runs until 4 June 2019. The final version of the guidance will be published later this year.