Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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a. What is a mental health condition?

Mental health conditions are very common. One in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

Mental health conditions are also commonly known as ‘mental health problems’ or ‘mental illnesses’, and these terms can be used interchangeably. Mental health conditions can affect someone’s thinking, feeling and behaviour. This can have a detrimental effect on their relationships, work and life generally.

Some people need support with daily living, such as with personal care, shopping and paying bills. This support can come from friends, relatives, voluntary agencies or statutory services.

Some people with mental health conditions live independently, others may live with a carer and some may live in supported accommodation with other people who have mental health conditions. If a person’s mental illness is severe, they may need to spend some time in hospital for treatment under the Mental Health Act 1983 (amended 2007) or as a voluntary patient. Further information on the Mental Health Act can be found in Section 16: Mental Health Act.

Some people may have a mental health condition for a short amount of time and make a full recovery. Others may have a long-term condition. For some people, their condition can come and go.

A mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long term and adverse effect on someone’s day to day activities. In this case, their condition would be covered by the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 protects disabled people from being discriminated against. It protects people from discrimination at work, when applying for jobs or when they use services, which includes HM Courts and Tribunals Service (you can get more information about discrimination and the Equality Act 2010 from Rethink Mental Illness at

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