Wednesday, 5 August 2009

CPS failing victims with mental health problems

A report issued today (Thursday 6 August) by the House of Commons Justice Committee highlights deep concerns about the treatment of people with mental health problems in the criminal justice system. According to the report, the Crown Prosecution Service is failing victims and witnesses with any history of mental distress by dropping cases before they even get to court (1), and where their mental health is in question, failing to support them to give good evidence even though the support systems are in place.

Mind's Chief Executive Paul Farmer said:

"Everyone has a right to seek justice for the crimes committed against them, but people with mental distress are being locked out of the system and denied the same rights to justice as anyone else. The CPS and the criminal justice system as a whole is working on the assumption that any experience of mental distress, from post-natal depression to anxiety attacks 20 years previously, means that your evidence cannot be considered 'reliable'. The blanket assumption that people who have had a mental health problem cannot be trusted in court is ludicrous, and reflects a view of mental health that is out of date and out of touch. Dropping cases on these grounds shouldn't even be an option.

"Where mental health is a consideration in a case, it's vital that prosecutors find out whether mental health is actually going to affect someone's testimony or not, and support them to give their best evidence rather than simply giving up on victims. The measures to support people with mental distress are already in place, but what we are witnessing here is institutional reluctance to treat mental health fairly and appropriately, which is standing in the way of justice.

"The CPS has committed to training prosecutors around mental health, but justice professionals have to be willing to change their long-held stereotypes around mental health, so we can change how people with mental distress are treated by the justice system.

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