The courts and mental health

Explains what may happen if you are charged with committing a crime, what happens when you to go court, and how your mental health is taken into account.

Your stories

Who would believe me?

Posted on 07/10/2013

“I didn’t even know what sectioning meant.”

Dan talks about his experience of being sectioned under the Mental Health Act after experiencing psychosis.

Dan Miller
Posted on 04/06/2019

Pleading guilty or not guilty

What is a plea?

If you are charged with a crime and have to go to court, you will be asked whether or not you did the crime. This is called 'entering a plea'.

What happens if I plead guilty?

Pleading guilty means that you admit you did the crime. If you plead guilty, the court will decide what should happen next, which could be a fine or a prison sentence.

What happens if I plead not guilty?

Pleading not guilty means that you say you didn’t do the crime, or that you had a reasonable excuse for doing so. The court will then have a trial to decide whether you did. If the court decides that you did, this means you will be convicted, and the court will decide what sentence to give you.

You may get a longer sentence after conviction at a trial than if you pleaded guilty. This is why it’s important to get legal advice from a solicitor before making your plea.

What does ‘unfit to plead’ mean?

If you cannot understand the meaning of the charge against you, what the pleas of 'guilty' and 'not guilty' mean, or cannot instruct a lawyer to represent you, the court may take medical evidence to find out whether you are unfit to plead.

What happens if the Magistrates' Court decides that I'm unfit to plead?

If the magistrates decided that you were unfit to plead, it could give you a hospital order under section 37 (but not 37/41) without having a trial.

What happens if the Crown Court decides that I'm unfit to plead?

If the Crown Court decided that you were unfit to plead, it would do a trial of the facts and decide whether you did the crime. If it decides you didn’t do the crime, it will acquit you.

If it decides you did do the crime, the court can:

  • give you a hospital order under section 37 or 37/41
  • give you a supervision order for up to two years, which means that you will have to get support or treatment
  • end the prosecution by giving you an absolute discharge.

Here is a flowchart outlining this process:

Unfit To Plead Flowchart

This information was published in July 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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