Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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b. Difficulties recognising when a defendant might be vulnerable - Film Clip

Film clip 7 (04:14 mins)

Magistrates speak about some of the difficulties they have in identifying defendants who may be vulnerable in court due to mental health conditions or learning disabilities. They suggest what can be done to address such concerns, including speaking to other professionals and obtaining information. The benefits to the court process and to the defendant are also discussed.

It is not unusual for defendants to appear in court without any indication that they might have mental health conditions, learning disabilities or other conditions that require support. There are a number of reasons for this including the defendant themselves being unaware that they have a particular condition or because their condition has not been diagnosed. Many people with mental health conditions, autism or learning disabilities are uncomfortable about disclosing their condition and will try to hide their support needs. This is often due to the stigma associated with such conditions, or fear of ridicule, or that more punitive sanctions may be imposed.

If you are concerned that a defendant does not appear to understand what is happening in court, or appears unduly anxious or distressed, then you should raise your concerns with the legal adviser at the earliest opportunity.

You can – and should not hesitate to – request further information if you are concerned about a defendant’s behaviour or think they might have particular needs. Finding out more about the individual defendant will help to ensure that necessary support is put in place during court proceedings and that the most appropriate disposal option is considered, so giving the best chance of reducing reoffending.

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