Aug 12, 2019 by Foresight
Mental Health and Criminal Justice: How Expert Psychiatrists Ensure a Fair Trial
It is the primary duty of every court proceeding to ensure that the outcome is fair, justified and takes into account all important considerations. In instances where vulnerable defendants are facing trial, psychiatry experts can be called upon to ensure the outcome respects the defendant’s unique circumstances.
Developmental disorders, neurocognitive impairments and mental illnesses can affect an individual’s judgement and their ability to give accurate testimony when questioned in court. In such instances, a psychiatry expert witness can help the court understand the nature of their illness and how it affects their behaviour.
Having arranged psychiatry experts for countless criminal defence cases, we’d like to share our thoughts on the role an expert witness psychiatrist can play in ensuring a fair trial.
Defendants are Being ‘Let Down’ By the Justice System
Vulnerable defendants are all too often not identified and supported in the justice system. The law reform charity Justice has claimed that has defendants with mental illnesses and learning disabilities are consistently being let down by the British criminal justice system, leading to their rights to a fair trial being undermined.
Approximately one in four adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime, and that proportion is even higher among those caught up in the justice system. With mental health disorders affecting so many of those who are accused of crimes, the insight of a psychiatry expert witness is crucial to ensure that their condition is taken into account when sentencing decisions are made.
Justice believes that defendants any kind of mental illness to be more quickly identified by mental health experts, in order to ensure their condition is given appropriate consideration and they can access any specialist support they need.
Only Psychiatric Experts Should Assess Mental Health
A recent report by Justice has suggested that in many instances, investigating police officers will identify whether the accused has a mental illness or learning difficulty. As these officers are not mental health professionals, there is a risk of a psychiatric disorder being missed and the accused being disadvantaged throughout their case.
Only a psychiatry expert will be able to accurately identify whether a defendant has a mental illness and offer an opinion on the extent their condition affects their judgement and their behaviour. Without the clinical knowledge of a psychiatry expert witness, it can be impossible to guarantee a fair trial for those with psychiatric disorders.
The report also recommends the use of specialist prosecutors to handle and make final decisions in instances where a defendant may have a mental health condition. According to the report, every crown court, youth court and Magistrates court should have its own specialist judge with honed experience and expertise in the issues regarding mental health, in order to ensure defendants with mental illnesses can access a fair trial.
Psychiatry Expert Witnesses for Criminal Defence Cases
Many arms of the criminal justice system fail to sufficiently take into account a wide range of mental health conditions that can adversely and unfairly affect a trial’s result. It’s only when psychiatric expert witness testimony is provided that those caught up in such proceedings can be assured complete consideration of their condition and a fair subsequent decision.
At Foresight, we arrange psychiatric reports and psychiatry expert witnesses for criminal defence cases through our nationwide network of experts. Get in touch today if you need a psychiatric expert for your case.
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