High Court finds Crown Prosecution Service to be discriminating against victims with mental health problems
Posted Tuesday 27 January 2009
In a landmark ruling today (27 January 2009), the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was found to be in breach of the Human Rights Act after deciding not to pursue the case of an assault victim in court on the grounds that the victim had a mental health problem (1).
The victim, "B", had his ear bitten off in a brutal attack in front of several witnesses in 2005. A man was charged with grievous bodily harm, but after discovering the victim's mental health history, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case on the morning of the trial, deciding he could not give credible evidence. The victim's lawyers brought a judicial review against the decision of the CPS, and today the High Court has ruled that the decision was irrational, unlawful and in breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act. In an unprecedented move the High Court awarded damages to the victim.
Previous research by Mind (2) has revealed that despite alarming levels of crime and victimisation committed against people with mental health problems, victims with mental distress face one barrier after another in getting crimes brought to justice. Mind has heard of victims having their cases dropped because they can be discredited as "unreliable" witnesses in court, even when their mental health is irrelevant to the case and has no bearing on their ability to give evidence.
Mind has been calling on the CPS to bring out guidance to stop psychiatric evidence from being used inappropriately in court to discredit a witness, and to introduce mental health awareness training so prosecutors know when mental health might be relevant to a case. Today's judgement reinforces the urgency of this guidance, if victims with mental health problems are to have the same rights to justice as anyone else.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
"Today's judgement is a ray of hope for people with mental health problems who are too often let down by the criminal justice system.
"Victims with mental distress face barriers at every stage of getting a crime brought to justice, from being disbelieved by police officers to being discredited in court because of their mental health history. Evidence from people with mental health problems can be automatically written off as "unreliable", even when it has no relation to the case. It is neither fair nor appropriate to use an incidence of depression to show that a person cannot be trusted to recall or interpret events properly.
"The circumstances that stop people from giving reliable evidence are extremely rare, but currently anyone with any history of mental distress can be dismissed out of hand. If the legal service is to perform its purpose, the Crown Prosecution Service has to commit themselves to tackle this injustice, rather than allowing victims to be silenced. Vulnerable victims need support, not further victimisation by the legal system.
"We are delighted that the CPS will be working with Mind in Kingston on an inquiry into this case."
(1) The case is known as B vs Director of Public Prosecutions.
(2) Mind's report Another Assault [ --link-- ] (2007) found that 71% of people with a mental health problem surveyed had been victimised in the community in the last two years alone.
Notes to editors
- Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. We work to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress.
- For more information, interviews and a range of case studies please contact Mind press office on T: 020 8522 1743 M: 07850 788514 E: firstname.lastname@example.org ISDN line available: 020 8221 0817.
- Please note that Mind is not an acronym and should be set in title case.