Mental Health and Fair Trial

On 15 September 2016 JUSTICE launched our next voluntary Working Party on Mental Health and Fair Trial, chaired by Sir David Latham, with the assistance of Linklaters’ pro bono team and 12 legal and medical professionals: Anthony Burton CBE; Professor Nigel Eastman; Julia Krish; Commander Christine Jones; Dr Eileen Vizard; Jan Jones; HHJ Sean Enright; Natasha Lloyd-Owen; Carolyn Taylor; Dr Kulvinder Manik; Jennifer McDermott; and Kris Venkatasami. JUSTICE staff Jodie Blackstock and Zoë Chapman will be supporting the work of the Working Party.

This is a topic that has attracted a lot of interest from many of our members, as well as from the Lord Chief Justice and experts in various fields. JUSTICE has long been concerned that the criminal justice system is not suitably designed to accommodate people with mental health or learning difficulties. Its underlying principle of bringing perpetrators of crime to justice, and justification for infringing the liberty of members of society based on punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation fail starkly when mental illness is introduced. This is because excuse for criminal acts resulting from mental disorder is often missed or ignored; effective participation of defendants in their case is inhibited by illness or development related communication difficulties; and sentencing programmes are inappropriate for the underlying causes of or contributions to criminal activity.

As we as a society begin to understand mental illness better, we at JUSTICE feel strongly that it is time for the criminal justice system to recognise the volume of suspects and defendants with mental health concerns in its midst; evolve and accommodate their needs; and enable the right to a fair trial to be effectively protected.

The Working Party will be developing robust and practical recommendations for reform that can be tested with relevant practitioners, working towards creating a system with:

  • A significant increase in diversion away from criminal liability, whether pre-charge or pre-trial;
  • A capacity-orientated trial process for those who cannot be diverted;
  • Normative standards based on equality principles for the conduct of criminal proceedings involving those with mental illness or learning difficulties.

Recommendations will cover all stages of the criminal process from pre-arrest, arrest and police processing, to the decision as to prosecution or diversion, to commencement of criminal proceedings, trial and disposal, as well as recommendations relating to the relevant substantive law: the insanity defence, diminished responsibility and fitness to plead. The Working Party will be providing their expertise, reviewing the current processes and taking evidence in order to report in September 2017.

Fundraising for the Working Party

We are very pleased to have reached our £40,000 fundraising target for this working party, including over £20,000 raised by runners from across the legal profession, as well as their clients, who took part in the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon in October 2016. See some photographs and more information about the event here.