Prosecutors need a clearer understanding of the needs of victims and witnesses with mental health issues or learning disabilities, research published by the Crown Prosecution Service has found.
The research, published alongside a consultation paper on policy in this area, found inconsistencies in the data gathering methods used by the CPS. It recommended that a specific case file should be prepared for every victim or witness about their particular cognitive abilities.
The report criticised a lack of information in the recording of cases involving disabled people, warning that this could lead to prejudice in the judicial system.
It said: “Without sufficient information on the status of the victim or witness there is a risk that a prosecutor may make assumptions about the credibility or reliability of the individual, or their capacity to withstand the court process.”
Different terms for disabilities
The research recommended standardising data about disability-related incidents, finding that the many different terms used to talk about mental health and disability can alter statistics.
Identifying poor understanding of mental health issues and learning disabilities in the CPS, the report recommended the development of training materials for prosecutors and police as well as the introduction of specific needs assessments about witnesses or victims for each case.
The research investigated the barriers facing vulnerable victims and witnesses in their dealings with the criminal justice system.
It found “a perception among victims and witnesses with mental health issues and/or learning disabilities that the police and the CPS make unfair judgements about whether they would be able to go through the process of giving evidence in court”.
CPS consults on improving service to vulnerable witnesses