More often than you might suppose, defendants appear in court without anyone being aware that they have mental health conditions. They may not even be aware of this or the condition may not have been officially diagnosed. These people still need support. Often, those suffering from a mental health issue can be uncomfortable with disclosing this, due to the stigma attached to certain conditions.

If you’re concerned and suspect a defendant may have a mental health problem or learning disability, you should certainly speak up at an appropriate time.

Pre-Court Briefing

Information about the defendant’s needs may be available at the pre-court briefing. There should be safeguards in place for those with mental disorders, under The Police and Criminal Evidence Act. An appropriate representative should be present during police interviews and they may or may not need to be assessed by a healthcare professional.

It’s best to note, however, that not all vulnerable people are considered ‘in need of support’ by the police forces.

The Advocate

 In a situation where the defendant has legal representation, you can quiz him or her about the needs of their client and ask if they consider their client to be supported appropriately by law. Ascertain if an Appropriate Adult was requested by the police. Defence lawyers aren’t always aware of mental health issues or learning disabilities.

The Defendant

 Sometimes, a defendant will offer information, when they would otherwise keep it to themselves. Any talks you do have about the defendant’s vulnerability should not be in front of an open court, but quietly and with sensitivity.

Community Mental Health Services

 Most courts will have access to disability services and all communities should have some kind of support for defendants.

Healthcare Professionals

 By 2014, all courts should have a facility that is staffed by professional healthcare individuals. They will all be able to recognise accurately mental disabilities, learning disabilities and other conditions. These individuals will then report these findings to the court, so support mechanisms can be put into place.

Medical Reports

 You will be able to request a medical assessment at any time during the court proceedings. Criminal solicitors should be able to secure this treatment.

Case Management

 All readings and cases should be aware of the problems involved with a defendant being affected by a mental disorder. The court may have to make reasonable adjustments or undergo special measures. This can all be laid out before the trial. The court has to facilitate the defendant, as much as they reasonably can.

Underrepresentation

 Due to the cuts to Legal Aid, some people are forced to represent themselves in court. Some people even choose to represent themselves. Any vulnerable defendants who go down this path are sure to be nervous, or under the mistaken illusion that they have full control of the situation. They may not be aware of basic legal formalities. They could feel frustrated, bewildered, and at a disadvantage.

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