May 10, 2023 by Foresight

How Prominent is Mental Health Within Criminal Cases?

Mental health is a topic that is becoming increasingly important in discussions of criminal justice in the UK. A 2021 article by Criminal Justice Joint Inspection stated, “thousands of people with a mental illness are coming into the criminal justice system each year but their needs are being missed at every stage,” demonstrating just how serious the lack of mental health support is within the system.

Is there a link between mental health and crime?

Firstly, it’s important to highlight just how prevalent mental health issues and mental illnesses are in the UK. According to the NHS, 1 in 4 adults experience some form of mental illness ranging from anxiety and depression to bipolar and schizophrenia. While this number is relatively high, a report published by the House of Commons Justice Committee noted, “around 10% of prisoners were recorded as receiving treatment for mental illness with one suggestion that as many as 70% may have some form of mental health need at any one time.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says, “mental health problems are very common among people in contact with the criminal justice system, with the amount of people affected ranging from 39% in police custody up to 90% in prison,” but that “the underlying mechanisms between crime and mental illness are still not yet well understood.”

There’s much discussion around social and economic factors, as well as substance misuse often leading to crime, but whatever the link, it seems more important than ever to consider the impact of mental health within criminal cases.

What happens if the defendant in a criminal case has a mental illness?

Although a mental health problem cannot typically be used as a defence, the prevalence of a mental health issue can potentially affect a prisoner’s sentence. The court may consider the seriousness of the offence combined with the severity of a mental illness, taking into account reports by an Expert Witness such as a Psychiatrist or Psychologist.

A Psychiatrist may answer questions such as:

  • Have they suffered psychological harm?
  • Do they suffer from a mental illness?
  • How has substance abuse affected behaviour?

And a Psychologist would be able to:

  • Assess the mental state of a suspect or defendant.
  • Assess the cognitive abilities and capacity of a client.
  • Assess areas of violence, substance abuse etc.

Is the complainant’s mental health considered during a case?

The complainant's mental health may be considered during a criminal case, particularly if it is relevant to the case. If the complainant's mental health is a relevant factor, it may be taken into account in a number of ways.

For example, if the complainant has a mental health condition that affects their ability to recall events accurately, this may be regarded as relevant when assessing the reliability of their evidence. An Expert Witness may be instructed to provide a report based on the mental health of the complainant to ensure a fair outcome of a case.

Mental Health Expert Witnesses

Foresight offers a range of mental health expert witness including Psychiatrists and Psychologists. While Psychiatrists work with patients with a broad range of mental health conditions including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, addiction, anxiety, and panic attacks, a Psychologist studies people and human behaviour including how they think, how they act, react and interact. Both expert witnesses may be necessary when it comes to a criminal case, as they offer different expertise and knowledge regarding mental illness.

Mental Health Tribunal and Parole Board Assessments

For Mental Health Tribunals, we provide Psychiatric Expert Witnesses to assess and deliver a report within two weeks of the initial instruction. Our Psychiatric Expert Witnesses are also available to attend tribunals and give evidence, as required.

With the nationwide coverage Foresight provides, our Psychiatric Expert Witnesses are also available to deliver Parole Board Assessments throughout the UK and regularly do so throughout the prison system.

If you have any questions or would like to instruct an Expert Witness, please click here to get in touch with our team.


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