Mind launches mental health toolkit for prosecutors and advocates
Posted Tuesday 5 October 2010
Mind has launched the first mental health toolkit for prosecutors and advocates, providing them with the tools and knowledge needed to ensure access to justice for people with mental health problems. The new practical guide, which was funded by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Law Society Charity and the Bar Council, has been designed to complement the CPS’s prosecution guidance on mental health and offers easily accessible information and advice about mental distress to aid decision-making during case preparation and at court.
Click here for more information about our Another Assault campaignIn 2007, the mental health charity’s Another Assault research found that while people with experience of mental distress are more likely to be the victims of crime they are too frequently denied access to justice. The report revealed that when people report crimes they are often not taken seriously by the authorities who should be there to help them, as they are deemed to be unreliable or non-credible witnesses.
This stigma and misunderstanding about mental health leads to cases not being pursued, as in the case of FB vs DPP , where an assault victim saw his case dropped by prosecutors in 2007, solely on the grounds that his history of psychiatric illness made him an unreliable witness. In a ground-breaking appeal in 2009, the High Court found the CPS to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights for this decision, and FB was awarded compensation for being made to feel like a “second class citizen […] beyond the protection of the law”.
Mind’s ongoing research has uncovered evidence that even when cases do make it to court, victims or witnesses with experience of mental distress are often treated inappropriately in a manner non-conducive to a fair trial. We have heard of insufficient support being provided to help witnesses withstand trial and give their best evidence, and inappropriate or aggressive questioning by the defence going unchallenged by prosecution advocates.
The new toolkit will act as a guide for prosecutors and advocates when they are dealing with a case where an individual involved has had mental health problems.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
Sadly people with mental health problems can come up against multiple barriers when seeking justice for crimes committed against them, from local police not believing them when they report an incident right through to their mental health history being used in court to discredit their evidence. Prosecutors and advocates have told Mind they often feel ill-equipped to make decisions about the impact of mental distress on evidence and what support people may need to attend trial.
I hope that this toolkit, along with the CPS’s new prosecution guidance, will become the go-to reference tool for prosecutors and advocates when handling cases involving victims or witnesses with experience of mental distress. This would be a great step towards Mind’s goal of ensuring fair and equal access to justice for people with mental health problems, and an improvement for this country’s legal system as a whole.
Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, Crown Prosecution Service said:
The Mind toolkit will be an excellent complement to the official CPS prosecution guidance on mental health, giving prosecutors practical information, advice, tips and tools. I will be asking all prosecutors and advocates to make full use of the toolkit, both in complementing their training and by referring to it during day-to-day case handling.
Cases involving victims and witnesses with mental health issues have proved challenging for the Crown Prosecution Service in the past. Equality of access to justice is crucial, and the Mind toolkit will help prosecutors to give victims and witnesses with mental health issues the justice they deserve.
Nigel Dodds, Chairman of the Law Society Charity, said:
The toolkit is an important initiative in ensuring that the principle of access to justice is truly available to all, which is why the Law Society Charity is supporting it. It will not only play a key role in giving those who suffer from mental distress a voice in the justice system, but will also help to educate further those in the legal profession who utilise it.
Nicholas Green QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, said:
The Bar Council is strongly supporting Mind's mental health toolkit. I hope that all members of the Bar will welcome this guidance and find it of real value. It is fundamental to the proper administration of justice that all witnesses be treated fairly by both prosecution and defence. All members of the Bar, whether prosecuting or defending, need to be aware of the support that such witnesses require in order to enable them to give their evidence fairly and fully