Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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Learning disabilities summary


  • Around 2% of the population has a learning disability; with appropriate support many can live productive and fulfilling lives.
  • It is estimated that between 5 and 10% of adults who offend have learning disabilities.
  • A learning disability is a lifelong condition; people with a learning disability frequently have greater health needs than the general population, including mental health conditions, and some might have autism.
  • A learning disability is different to a learning difficulty, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably
  • Learning disabilities are more common in the offending population than the general population.
  • A learning disability is considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
  • There are often no visual clues that a person has a learning disability and some people may try to hide their condition for fear of ridicule, and to appear the same as everybody else. There are, however, some signs to look out for.

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