Access to justice is a basic human right
Posted Thursday 6 August 2009
Today, the influential Justice committee has published its report on the CPS. It highlighted current failings of the justice system in providing support for people with mental health problems as victims of crime.
I gave evidence to the Justice Committee in February and debated the issue this morning with Keir Starmer, Director Of Public Prosecutions on the Today programme. He accepted that the CPS had failed people with mental health problems in the past but that the CPS were now addressing this.
For me, access to justice is a basic human right in our society. We all expect that if we are the victim of a crime, we will be taken seriously by the criminal justice system and that we will be supported as a witness. It is extraordinary that so many people find themselves excluded from that system simply because they have had a history of a mental health problem.
The testimonies Mind continues to hear are shocking. A victim of serious physical assault saw his case dropped because he had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, despite identifying the assailants and having physical evidence of the extent of the crime. An out of control vehicle mounted the kerb and ran into a woman walking along the pavement, but the case of dangerous driving was dropped because the pedestrian had attempted suicide in the past, and it was suggested she may have put herself in the way of danger intentionally. A mother and her teenage son have endured years of abuse at the hands of their neighbours after disclosing family history of mental illness, and continue to live in fear because the police will not take the case seriously.
But the tide is now turning. The Justice Committee and the DPP himself accept that it can't go on like this. The CPS policy, newly released this week with input from Mind, is welcome. But now we need to see a culture change from top to bottom. A change in attitudes, towards a system that treats someone with a mental health problem as an equal citizen with equal access to justice.
Our work in tackling stigma and discrimination at all levels, through Time to Change and many other activities within Mind, is crucial. But we won't make any difference unless others act. Here's a great opportunity for the DPP and the CPS to lead the way and help transform the experience of people with mental health problems.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
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