Improving people's court experiences
Victims and witnesses with mental distress are too often denied access to justice, because their evidence is deemed 'unreliable' due to their mental health problem. Mind's new toolkit for prosecutors and advocates seeks to address this barrier to justice and tackle discrimination within the criminal justice system.
The decision to terminate the prosecution on the eve of the trial, on the ground that it was not thought that FB could be put before the jury as a credible witness, was to add insult to injury. It was a humiliation for him and understandably caused him to feel like a second class citizen.
What’s the issue?
Mind’s Another assault research highlighted that victims of crime who have a mental health problem are less likely to see their case brought to justice and the perpetrator of the crime convicted. People experiencing mental distress are often regarded as unreliable or non-credible witnesses, meaning their cases may be dropped before they even reach court. In the ground-breaking case of FB v DPP, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was found to be in breach of the Human Rights Act, because prosecutors dropped an assault case on the grounds that the victim had schizophrenia and his evidence could not be relied upon.
Mind's evidence also uncovered that in cases that do reach court, witnesses’ medical records or mental health history may be used inappropriately in an attempt to discredit their evidence. Such cross-examination is not only unjustifiably intrusive and may often be irrelevant to the case, but this disclosure of sensitive personal information can be very distressing for the witness, with a lasting negative impact on their family, job or social relationships.
If I’d had a broken leg or cancer this would not have been brought up to use against me as the victim in all this. […] At no point did the barrister representing my daughter and myself, nor the judge, put a stop to these inappropriate and irrelevant questions.
What is Mind doing?
Mind was awarded a grant by the Bar Council, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Law Society to develop a mental health toolkit for prosecutors and independent legal advocates who prosecute cases involving victims or witnesses with mental distress. The toolkit contains practical advice and illustrative case studies to equip professionals with the skills to:
- handle mental health evidence sensitively and appropriately,
- provide the right support to ensure victims and witnesses can give their best evidence,
- challenge unacceptable use of psychiatric evidence by defence lawyers or other witnesses.
An expert advisory group oversaw the project, made up of people with experience of mental distress and the criminal justice system, and legal professionals including CPS prosecutors, barristers and magistrates, the police, and academic experts. We also conducted research with victims, witnesses and prosecutors to inform the work - thank you to everyone who took part, shared their experiences, and provided case studies.
The toolkit is being disseminated widely to staff in the 43 Crown Prosecution Service Areas in England and Wales, and independent barristers and other legal professionals. Mind will continue to promote its use, to ensure equal access to justice for victims and witnesses with mental distress.
People who are a victim of or witness to a crime, and have experience of mental distress, may wish to consult the toolkit to ensure they are treated appropriately when they try to take a case to court.
Download the toolkit
'Achieving justice for victims and witnesses with mental distress: a mental health toolkit for prosecutors and advocates'
You might also like…
Related Blog Posts
Love legal aid this Valentine’s Day
Mind, Justice for all and many MPs are fighting for the rights of people with experience of mental distress and others to have equal access to justice. But time is running out to influence Government.
Campaigning for ‘justice for all’
Today, campaigners will descend on parliament in a mass lobby of MPs. They will be united in outrage at the government’s plan to cut legal aid.
- More blog posts