Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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Sentencing summary


  • Mental illness or disability can be a mitigating factor in sentencing.
  • The particular support needs and abilities of individual offenders should inform your sentencing decisions.
  • Taking an offender’s individual needs into consideration can help to avoid unrealistic expectations being placed on them, which might lead to breach.
  • You can seek information to help determine the most appropriate sentence for the individual offender, including from liaison and diversion services, and from pre-sentence and medical reports. 
  • There are very few dual diagnosis services where professionals will work with an offender with both mental illness and alcohol or drug issues. Some, but not all, offenders will need to address their mental health prior to substance misuse or vice versa. An offender's individual needs and local service provision should be considered so that sentence requirements can be achievable.
  • Despite high numbers of offenders with mental health conditions the Mental Health Treatment Requirement is rarely used.
  • Community Order requirements can respond to the particular needs of vulnerable defendants.
  • You should be aware of local services that can provide particular support to offenders undertaking community orders.
  • You should ensure that offenders understand their sentence and the implications for non-compliance. Additional support might be necessary to serve as a reminder for certain offenders such as those with learning disabilities.
  • An appropriate sentence that responds to the needs of the individual offender can help to avoid breach and prevent re-offending.

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