MPs today criticised the lack of support from the Crown Prosecution Service for crime victims with mental health problems and raised concerns that they were not being treated as credible witnesses.
In a report on the CPS, the House of Commons’ justice committee said it was concerned that people with mental health problems were not being supported to give evidence because they were not being identified as eligible for “special measures”.
These include being able to give evidence by video link or use communication aids.
It also said it was “concerned” at evidence it had received that “the CPS may be reluctant to recognise that people with mental health problems can be credible witnesses at all”.
Earlier this year the High Court ruled that the CPS had breached the human rights of a man with a history of mental illness, who had his ear bitten off in an altercation, by abandoning the case because they thought he would be an unreliable witness.
In response, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, admitted on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there had been “individual failings” in the treatment of witnesses with mental health problems, but claimed the CPS was improving on this score.
In a press statement, he pointed to policies issued this week on improving support for witnesses with mental health problems or learning disabilities, to ensure they “have the same access to justice as anyone else, being able to give evidence and have that evidence treated seriously”.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “The CPS and the criminal justice system as a whole is working on the assumption that any experience of mental distress, from post-natal depression to anxiety attacks 20 years previously, means that your evidence cannot be considered ‘reliable’.
‘Out of date and out of touch’
“The blanket assumption that people who have had a mental health problem cannot be trusted in court is ludicrous, and reflects a view of mental health that is out of date and out of touch.”
In evidence to the committee Mind also warned that the CPS did not provide sufficient mental health training for proseuctors to help them make “consistently good” decisions concerning mental health and credibility.