Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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Supporting vulnerable defendants summary


  • You should ensure that all possible steps are taken to assist a vulnerable defendant to understand and to participate in court proceedings. Support for vulnerable defendants will vary from person to person.
  • If you are in any doubt about a defendant’s ability to understand or to participate effectively in court proceedings, you should ask for further information and seek advice from your legal adviser. 
  • Under equality law, reasonable adjustments should be made to assist defendants with disabilities, as necessary.
  • However, to date, there has been a lack of parity between support for vulnerable witnesses and vulnerable defendants.
  • There are a number of practical steps that can be put in place to help ensure a defendants understanding of, and effective participation in, court proceedings and useful guidance is available. 

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