A High Court judge has overruled prosecutors who abandoned an assault trial after judging the victim to be an “unreliable witness” due to his history of mental illness.
Lord Justice Toulson said the Crown Prosecution Service’s actions, which led to a defendant walking from court free, were unlawful and breached the victim’s human rights.
The judge also accused lawyers of “stereotyping” the victim, despite the apparent credibility of his account, and awarded him £8,000 in compensation.
Disabled people “equal in eyes of the law”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said the case sent out a clear message that “disabled people, particularly those with mental health conditions, are equal to others in the eyes of the law”.
The 25-year-old man, known as FB, had his ear bitten off following an altercation with another man in 2005, and a suspect was charged with grievous bodily harm.
On the morning of the trial in 2007, however, CPS lawyers withdrew from the case. They told the recorder that having read a medical report with details of the victim’s psychiatric condition, “the Crown do not feel able to rely upon the evidence [of FB]”. The defendant was acquitted with no prospect of a retrial.
At a judicial review brought by the victim’s lawyers, Lord Justice Toulson said the decision breached FB’s right to be protected from inhuman or degrading treatment, under article three of the European Convention of Human Rights.
He said the experience was a “humiliation for him, and understandably caused him to feel that he was being treated as a second class citizen”.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, reiterated the charity’s plea for prosecutors to receive mental health awareness training, and to be issued guidance to stop psychiatric evidence from being used inappropriately in court.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said: “The way in which the CPS let this man down was simply unacceptable. As DPP, I intend to take steps to ensure that it could never happen again.”
Dru Sharpling, chief crown prosecutor for CPS London, said she had written to the man to apologise.
CPS needs clearer understanding of mental health/learning disability