Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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Vulnerable defendants in court summary


  • People with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and other conditions frequently appear before the criminal courts, however, their condition is not always recognised in advance of their appearance in court.
  • Recognising and meeting a defendant’s support needs are important in ensuring they are not unfairly disadvantaged or discriminated against during court proceedings.
  • It can be difficult to spot when a defendant might be vulnerable in court.
  • If you are in any doubt about a defendant’s ability to understand or to participate effectively in court proceedings you should seek further information and advice.
  • There are a number of ways in which you can obtain further information about a defendant’s particular support needs.
  • Increasingly, courts will have access to liaison and diversion services (or, in Wales, criminal justice liaison services) that will help ensure that defendants with mental health conditions, autism or learning disabilities are identified in advance of their first appearance in court so that the necessary support and adjustments can be put in place.

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