Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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a. Introduction

Many defendants and witnesses in the criminal courts have mental health conditions, learning disabilities or other support needs. Some courts have a coordinated approach to recognising when defendants might have particular support needs but this is not always the case. The development of liaison and diversion services should begin to change this. Further information on liaison and diversion services can be found in Section 13: Liaison and diversion services (England) and criminal justice liaison services (Wales).

Recognising and meeting a defendant’s support needs are important in ensuring they are not unfairly disadvantaged or discriminated against during court proceedings.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book (ETBB) notes:

...there are many potential sources of discrimination and not being heard or being misunderstood by the judge is as discriminatory as an inability to access a court or tribunal building (Judicial College, 2013).

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