Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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13. Liaison and diversion services (England) and criminal justice liaison services (Wales) - Film Clip

Film clip 11 (05:33 mins)

Lord Bradley talks about his review of people with mental health problems and learning disabilities in the criminal justice system and, in particular, his recommendation for liaison and diversion services. Magistrates, a liaison and diversion practitioner and an individual with a mental health condition discuss the need for, and benefits of, liaison and diversion services to help ensure effective participation in court proceedings and when considering sentencing options.

Please note: the national role out for liaison and diversion services has been extended. 

The establishment of liaison and diversion services to provide support for vulnerable suspects and defendants was recommended by the Reed Review (1992). However, services have been patchy and the focus of support has tended towards court provision for people with mental health conditions.

More recently, Lord Bradley's report on people with mental health problems and learning disabilities in the criminal justice system (The Bradley Report, 2009), recommended that all police custody suites and criminal courts should have access to liaison and diversion services. The Government has made a commitment that all police custody suites and criminal courts in England will have access to liaison and diversion schemes by 2017/18, subject to full business case approval by HM Treasury. Similar services exist in Wales and these are referred to as criminal justice liaison services.

In England, liaison and diversion services are commissioned by NHS England, and reflect a common service specification, which includes children and adults, and a wide range of mental health, disability, substance misuse and social vulnerabilities. In November 2013, following a period of consultation, implementation guidance for criminal justice liaison services was issues by the Welsh Assembly Government.

A major role for liaison and diversion services in England, and criminal justice liaison services in Wales, is to help identify and, where necessary, assess people who might have mental health conditions, learning disabilities and other vulnerabilities when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system, and to make referrals to appropriate services. Police custody and court staff may recognise when an idividual has a particular vulnerability and can make a referral to their local liaison and diversion service. Individuals who have been seen by liaison and diversion and criminal justice liaison services will either continue through the criminal justice system, with the necessary support, or be diverted away from criminal justice and into healthcare for treatment and care.

Liaison and diversion and criminal justice liaison practitioners should be aware of the legal obligations and guidance that will help to facilitate support for vulnerable defendants; and these include:

  • reasonable adjustments for defendants with disabilities, as required by the Equality Act 2010
  • special measures, as provided for at section 47 of the Police and Justice Act, 2006
  • relevant guidance issued to members of the judiciary and court staff, for example, the Consolidated Practice Direction and Guidance for the judiciary and HMCTS staff including the use of registered and non-registered intermediaries for vulnerable defendants and vulnerable defence and prosecution witnesses.

Liaison and diversion and criminal justice liaison practitioners should also be aware of the inherent power of members of the judiciary to ensure that necessary support is made available to defendants, according to their personal need, to help ensure their effective participation in court proceedings and to uphold their right to a fair trial.

Further information about liaison and diversion services, including whether services exist in your area, can be found at NHS Commissioning: liaison and diversion.

Further information on local services including details of a liaison and diversion team working in your court should be available from your local mental health and learning disability champion. More information on a champions' role can be found in 'Magistrates' Association Mental Health and Learning Disability Champions'.

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